The African Democratic Change (ADeC) has condemned the devastating and perilous decision by Standard Bank to close accounts of the Sekunjalo Group-owned Independent Newspapers on 21 August.
“We view this as an attack on media freedom and a concerted attempt to put the Sekunjalo Group out of business...The implications of closing these accounts will be dire for thousands of people that rely on Independent Newspapers as a source of income,” said ADeC president Visvin Reddy.
The closure of accounts belonging to titles such as The Cape Argus, Cape Times, The Star, Daily News, IOL and several major news outlets around the country that are Independent Media brands could affect staff salaries, which are paid via Standard Bank accounts.
Standard Bank’s decision to terminate the accounts was based on fear of reputational damage, following unfavourable media reports on the findings of the Mpati Commission of Inquiry's Report into the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
The PIC had claimed that a R4.3 billion investment it made in AYO Technology Solutions Limited, a tech company in the Sekunjalo stable, was unlawful.
However, in March this year, Sekunjalo was vindicated when AYO and the PIC agreed to a settlement in the Western Cape High Court - putting paid to the “reputational damage” argument.
In a statement, Reddy said the insensitivity shown by Standard Bank was deeply concerning and added that the decision may even be construed as racist, as it has a disproportionate and negative impact on black-owned businesses and media.
He further added that this was an opportune moment for the ANC to move with speed in establishing a State bank, which was mooted in the Freedom Charter in 1955 and was a resolution taken at ANC conferences.
He called on the ruling party to take urgent steps in establishing a State bank that can help address the monopolization of the banking sector and provide a much-needed alternative for black-owned businesses like the Sekunjalo Group.
“We urge the ANC to prioritise this issue and to take decisive action to protect media freedom and economic justice for all South Africans. We stand in solidarity with the Sekunjalo Group and Independent Newspapers, and we call on other political parties to join us in condemning the unjust actions of Standard Bank.”