The recent furore regarding the withdrawal by FNB of a multi-million rand anti crime initiative raises many pertinent issues that affect minority and special interest groups in South Africa.
For those that don’t already know, FNB withdrew an initiative at the last minute which was meant to pressurise President Thabo Mbeki into making crime prevention his first priority.
The Sunday Times reported that presidential envoys put pressure on FNB ultimately forcing them to withdraw their effort. A government spokesperson described the FNB anti-crime campaign as a form of incitement against Mbeki and described FNB as political opponents.
The decision to can the campaign at the eleventh hour was no small matter. FNB had already commissioned print, television and radio adverts.
For those that follow the politics of minority and special interest groups in South Africa, this outrage is nothing new. Last year I read Joel Pollak’s Masters Dissertation entitled: The Kasrils Affair: - Jews and Minority Politics in the New South Africa. It highlighted many challenges facing minority and special interest groups in South Africa which are now receiving broader attention following the FNB furore.
Pollak examined whether minority groups (he focused on South African Jews) should be more politically outspoken, or should behave as intercessors, using quiet diplomacy to influence government policies.
The pressure the ANC exerted on FNB reveals the tactics they repeatedly exert on minority and special interest groups, forcing them to tow the ANC party line.
Pollak describes a general fear that minority and interest groups suffer in dealing with the goverment.
|“The ANC has almost created a “social contract” on minorities and on interest groups within civil society. The penalty for failure to join is political, social and economic isolation.”|
Pollak illustrated this by analyzing the local AIDS activist group the Treatment and Action Campaign (TAC). Although utterly opposed to the ruling party policies, in every election they have backed the ANC and often boast that the majority of their members vote for the ANC. This despite the fact that their HIV/AIDS positions are largely reflected in the policies of the opposition parties. So why won’t the TAC turn these important social issues into political issues? Pressure. Pressure tactics employed by the government which affect the behaviour of special interest and minority groups.
This ultimately creates a climate of fear which reduces minority and special interest groups’ level of dissent. Minority and special interest groups find themselves in positions where they need to curry favour with the ruling party to ensure cooperation with it thus decreasing their ability to publicly criticise the government.
Pollak uses an incident with the local Portuguese community to provide a classic example of a minority group falling out of favour with the government following public displays of criticism.
|“In November 2000, members of the Portuguese community organised a march in Pretoria under the banner of the “Crime Awareness Committee” to protest against crime. The march ended at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where a memorandum addressed to President Mbeki was handed over to officials: |
“It is our opinion that our Government simply does not have the political will to implement the same measures, which have been successfully deployed in other countries to combat crime and corruption at all the various levels of its existence…”
The vitriolic response that came several weeks later was signed by Minister of Safety and Security Steve Tshwete. The letter stated:
“It is perfectly clear to us that your initiative to march to the Union Buildings and deliver a memorandum addressed to our President was a conscious political act driven by your opposition to the government. I would even make bold to say that, in addition to your defining yourselves as our political opponents, you hold the government, our President and our continent in contempt…”
Our country has had a considerable Portuguese community for some time, including the apartheid years. We know of no occasion when this community marched to the Union Buildings to present a memorandum to the apartheid presidents demanding an end to the apartheid crime against humanity…
The repeated pattern of labeling special interest groups as political opponents is shameful. Following the FNB furore the M&G reported
|Government spokesman Themba Maseko labelled the campaign as “incitement” against Mbeki. |
“Positioning themselves as an opposition party is not appropriate ... Trying to incite people to behave in a certain way towards the head of state cannot be condoned,” Maseko said.
So much for our governments criticism of Bush’s “you're either with us or against us” stance on terrorism.
Communal Jewish leaders are often criticised for their soft approach to the ANC, choosing the politics of influence over public criticism. But this incident with FNB highlights the difficult task they face in dealing with a political machine intolerant of any criticism.
You can download the full text of the canned FNB campaign at the Sunday Times from this page.