Independent Media and 30 other companies in the Sekunjalo Group (Sekunjalo) can sigh with relief after the court ordered Standard Bank to refrain from closing the Group’s bank accounts.
The judgment was delivered on Thursday, at the eleventh hour of Standard Bank’s planned closure of the accounts on Friday, September 15.
On Tuesday, the Group applied for an urgent interim interdict against Standard Bank in the Western Cape High Court.
Sekunjalo Group’s counsel said the banking institution also targeted the 31 applicants because of their affiliation to Dr Iqbal Survé.
Survé is an entrepreneur, medical doctor, philanthropist and chairman of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings, and the non-executive chairman of Independent Media.
Independent Media is the largest newspaper publisher in South Africa and prints the Cape Argus, the Cape Times, and The Star, among others in its stable of 15 daily and weekly titles.
Senior Counsels for Sekunjalo argued that shutting the bank accounts would infringe on the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and the right to trade.
In her judgment, Judge Judith Cloete ruled the applications as urgent and interdicted Standard Bank from closing the bank accounts of the Sekunjalo Group until Wednesday, September 11, 2024, or until a final determination of the applications pending cases in the High Court and the Equality Court.
Speaking for the Group, Dr Iqbal Survé, executive chairman of Sekunjalo Investments Limited (SIH), said:
“Today’s victory is a testament to hard work, and the rights of justice and the rule of law in this country.
“It is a win for every person, company or organisation who have had their bank accounts unilaterally terminated and a warning to the banks that they cannot be a law unto themselves.
“The days of the banks determining the fate of people who have a right to bank, are close to reckoning.”
Judge Cloete also ruled that the Sekunjalo Group and Standard Bank are granted leave to approach this court on the same papers, duly supplemented, after Monday, July 1, 2024, and by no later than Wednesday, July 24, 2024, to extend the order of the interim interdict or for its discharge. Good cause should be shown, should the applications come before the court again.
The judge also ruled that the costs shall stand over until the determination in the main applications pending before the High Court and Equality Court.
Earlier this week, National Freedom Party (NFP) called on Standard Bank to rethink their decision. NFP leader in Parliament, Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, said the alarming move, which threatens media freedom and the livelihoods of countless South Africans, has raised concerns about political interference in the diversity of opinion in the press.
The party said it believed this move by Standard Bank is not simply an assault on a media institution, but an assault on the very foundations of democracy, and it implored the banking institution to reassess its course of actions and further called 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,” Shaik Emam said.
Standard Bank had threatened to shut the group’s accounts last month after the Competition Appeal Court (CAC) overturned last September’s Competition Tribunal ruling and handed down a judgment in favour of Standard Bank, Mercantile Bank, and Access Bank, effectively allowing these banks to unbank the Sekunjalo companies.
Sekunjalo filed an application to appeal this ruling in the Constitutional Court, which caused the banks to reconsider and revert to the earlier Competition Tribunal ruling, whose D-Day was set for September 15, or until such time as the Competition Commission concludes its investigation into Sekunjalo’s allegations.
This is an ongoing story.