Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Would you change your bank account for Droolius?

By Sarah Britten

Malema threatens Nedbank

So Julius Malema has upped the ante in his campaign against Nedbank, the unfortunate target of his ire after they withdrew their sponsorship of Athletics South Africa in the wake of the Caster Semenya debacle.

“When we called for Nedbank senior managers to engage us on this matter, they sent junior black managers. We will teach them a lesson if they continue doing that. We will mobilise people to withdraw their money and bank with other banks,” he apparently told thousands of our future leaders, currently known as University of Zululand students.

I wonder how many of the masses will take him up on his suggestion. Does Droolius know what a schlep it is to close a bank account and open another one? Does he know how many forms have to be filled in? How all your debit orders have to be changed? How HR has to be informed. Please. People will stone the police, they will go to jail, but don’t ask them to stand in line at a bank.

The anti-Nedbank campaign (gosh, remember when they were the bank for “those people” … how things have changed) is of course the latest in a long history of consumer boycotts in South Africa. Remember how the masses were going to boycott Vodacom earlier this year? Yeah right. As Cosatu was forced to admit, this would be “a difficult campaign to sustain”.

Which brings me to a central point about boycotts: it can be really, really difficult to enforce them. Even when Cell C and MTN offer alternatives, nobody could be bothered to cancel their Vodacom contracts or stop using their Vodacom SIMs. Cellphones and their use are simply too deeply entrenched in South African society for a boycott to have a hope in hell.

Boycotts work best when the negative publicity that accrues from them forces a change in behaviour of the target corporate. Recently, the power of social media was brought to bear on Nestle, after revelations that the company buys milk from dairy farms that Grace Mugabe stole from their rightful owners. Nestle has been the target of various boycotts since the 70s (have a look at how many anti-Nestle Facebook groups are out there), but this one seems, on the surface at least, to have had a measure of impact. Nestle’s reputation in South Africa has suffered and I for one will never be able to enjoy Milo quite as much again, much as I love it.

I would be surprised if Nedbank feels much impact, if any, from the effusions of the ANCYL. Maybe they would be more vulnerable than an Absa or a Standard Bank because their market share is relatively low. Still, I wouldn’t worry if I were them. After all, the sort of customer who takes politicians seriously enough to close a bank account because Julius says so is probably the sort of customer you don’t want anyway.

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