Durban - The National Freedom Party (NFP) has condemned Standard Bank's decision to terminate the bank accounts of Independent Media and other companies in the Sekunjalo Group.
NFP Leader in Parliament Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam said that this is an alarming move by the bank, which threatens media freedom and the livelihoods of countless South Africans.
“Standard Bank's decision jeopardises not only the principles of media freedom and freedom of speech but also the economic stability of these businesses and their employees. It is evident that there is a bigger agenda at play here.”
Shaik Emam’s comments come after the Sekunjalo Group of companies launched a court application to interdict Standard Bank from closing the accounts. The matter was argued in the Equality Court in the Western Cape on Tuesday and a decision is expected on Friday - the same day that the account closures are set to occur.
‘The Mercury’ reported that in court on Tuesday, counsel for Standard Bank argued that the accounts were being closed due to “reputational risk” and claimed the companies had not fulfilled their obligations in terms of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica).
It was also reported that counsel for the Sekunjalo Group of companies said the reputational risk argument as “flimsy and prejudicial” as no wrongdoing had been proven against of the companies or individuals involved.
Shaik Emam said the NFP firmly stands with the Sekunjalo Group in opposing this infringement on media independence and the suppression of diverse voices in the press.
“Their (Standard Bank) attempt to invoke the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) as a justification for closure is weak. This move raises questions about their motives and suggests that it may be operating under political pressure. If Standard Bank's actions are allowed to proceed unchecked, it would set a dangerous precedent for any individual or entity holding a bank account.”
He said this could lead to a chilling effect on media organisations' ability to report fearlessly and independently, undermining the very foundations of our democracy.
“The NFP believes this is not simply an assault on a media institution, but an assault on the very foundations of democracy.”
The NFP implored Standard Bank to reassess its course of action and calls for transparency in this matter.
“If they refuse to withdraw this ridiculous decision, then we have no choice but to call on South Africans to close their Standard Bank accounts and shift to banks who are committed to press freedom and democracy.”