FNB certainly stuck its neck out with the advert which has infuriated the ANC so much. It goes beyond the norm for a bank to use its resources to give voice to young people on the views of where this country is or should be headed.
But we don’t hear young people’s voices enough in our mainstream media, so it seems on the face of it to be a good thing to bring forth such views.
The ANC is upset because these young people appeared to be critical of the country’s direction, and it plugged into quite a common criticism of ANC leadership (and one which can often be heard from within the ANC as well). I dismiss their notion that they are concerned at protecting these children from FNB’s abuse, as it seems to me to be a positive thing to give young people a chance to express themselves in this way.
When the ANC was in opposition, in exile and in prison, it encouraged business leaders to speak out on important national matters. While in government it has encouraged business to be more engaged on policy issues. And it often says that our media needs to widen its scope to convey a greater diversity of voices, especially those not often heard form. But what it does not like here is that the young voices that FNB promoted were critical and made the ANC and its allies in government feel uncomfortable.
We want you to engage, speak out, listen to young people, they seem to be saying, as long as you are not too independent, too critical or too outspoken.
The ruling alliance is free to disagree with and criticize the FNB and its campaign, but it has done so in a threatening way that islikely to have a chilling effect on debate and discussion. The Youth League has called this “treachery”. The SACP has called it “agitation”. The Young Communists have called it a “veiled attack on the country”. This is the language of intolerance, reminiscent of a previous age of censorship when critics were carelessly labeled as unpatriotic and treasonous.
The ANC should be more tolerant, more open to criticism and strive to uphold the spirit of the constitution – which is to promote debate, discussion and the free expression of opinion.