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Sat Oct 25 04:49:43 SAST 2014

Government stifling debate by attacking business critics

The Times Editorial | 23 January, 2013 00:02

The Times Editorial: First National Bank has been bullied by the ANC to withdraw parts of its You Can Help advertising campaign featuring schoolchildren appealing to their countrymen to work together for a betterSouth Africa.

The advert is controversial in part - some of the youngsters read scripted messages criticising the failings of the government, notably in education - but it is hardly treasonous, as the ANC Youth League puts it.

In 2007, an arguably naive FNB was forced to pull a multimillion-rand campaign in which it intended to write to then President Thabo Mbeki urging him to prioritise the fight against crime.

The anti-crime campaign was relevant and truthful - criminality was rampant five years ago and just about every citizen was affected by it - and it is a great pity that FNB had to can it.

The withdrawal of parts of the latest campaign is equally unfortunate.

Once again the space for a necessary debate about the state of South Africa - as seen by the country's future, its children - has been compromised so as not to upset the ruling party further.

Business has been thumped on the head an awful lot by the ruling party of late for speaking its mind. Remember how Reuel Khoza, the chairman of Nedbank, was savaged last year for using the bank's annual report to criticise the quality of our political leadership?

It goes without saying that the ANC and the government are too sensitive about constructive criticism. In a developing democracy, robust debate and, where necessary, criticism of the powerful, should be encouraged, not squashed.

But the latest uproar, coming hot on the heels of the Amplats controversy, in which the mineral resources minister threatened to review Anglo-American's mining rights, also speaks volumes about the suspicion with which the ruling party regards big business.

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