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Fri Oct 24 19:59:41 SAST 2014

Why is business licking the hand that slaps it?

Peter Delmar | 30 January, 2013 00:01
Peter Delmar
Image by: The Times

It was only last year that a leading banker dared to question the "strange" things that were going on in government.

Back then, Reuel Khoza didn't so much question the "moral quotient" of government leaders as touch on another raw nerve, a nerve that is so obviously exposed and inflamed that we touch it at our peril. By writing about "the sheer incapacity" of "putative leaders", Khoza was suggesting that our government wasn't very good at governing.

For his pains, Khoza was pilloried and publicly labelled a heretic by a regime that signalled unequivocally its intolerance of dissent. A government that is hell-bent on pushing through its supine parliament a secrecy bill that threatens our most basic rights doesn't like to be reminded, especially by those who stand and fall by their ability to run successful large undertakings, just how bad they are at their jobs.

This government's idea of critical public discourse is exemplified by the proper and dutiful conduct of The New Age, a rag founded by one of its own, endorsed by its cronies and funded by the organs of state over which the executive exercises control, supposedly in the name of the people. That nobody reads The New Age but that it remains in "business" is the whole point of this publishing exercise: you're not meant to read anything or think anything. Just do as you're told.

Unfortunately for government, there are people in business who walk straight past the free piles of The New Age dumped every morning in their reception areas as they make their way to the offices where they go to work, making the decisions and running the companies and enterprises that keep this country going.

The castigation of Khoza and the deafening silence from those who should have been rushing to the defence of his right to speak his mind was a low point in the relationship between the government and the governed. That the ANC government was allowed to get away with such petulant and unconscionable bullying represented a particularly low ebb in our recent history.

But it wasn't the nadir. Last year we had the state broadcaster - the broadcaster which, right now, is demanding that you and your business pay its licence fees so it can continue feeding the gullible masses ham-handed propaganda - refusing to flight an amusing animated commercial because it depicted the presidential family eating fish and chips, and therefore impugned the dignity of the big man of many wives.

This year, the same government directed a series of shrill philippics against a platinum miner that was forced to announce the closure of four shafts and the lamentable retrenchment of 14000 workers.

The communist secretary-general of the ruling clique blathered about how the retrenchments were aimed at shoring up the platinum price. The lightweight mining minister's ill-considered and invective-filled response was blackmail: to threaten the miner with the cancellation of its mining licence. The miner, whose leadership was publicly described as being "arrogant" while the bullies in power fumed at the height of their agitation, ate humble pie and is now, to all appearances, doing the government's bidding.

As, month by month, business allows bullying of the most distasteful kind and the narrow interests of a powerful few to triumph over the good of the country, we keep testing new lows. But, surely, the nadir in this sorry saga of cap-in-hand kowtowing to our political masters has been plumbed by the abject surrender of Sizwe Nxasana and the senior management of FNB on, of all things, an issue of free speech. Instead of bristling with indignation and demanding an immediate and abject apology for the appalling slander of associating their bank with "treason", FNB went on bended knee to ask for absolution.

We can argue until we're blue in the face about the probity of children criticising politicians and being given air time to air those opinions. But the alacrity with which Nxasana grovelled, by SMS, to the incompetent schools minister and took himself and his executive team off to Luthuli House post haste to seek forgiveness was misguided, craven and indecent.

Through their taxes business keeps this government in business. It's not only business's right to criticise and question those in public office, it is their duty. Khoza understood that. Nxasana, not so much.

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