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Banks should not be ‘unseen hands shaping society’

Standard Bank has notified Independent Media and IOL that its business banking accounts would be closed by August 21. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Standard Bank has notified Independent Media and IOL that its business banking accounts would be closed by August 21. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 3, 2023


By Masibongwe Sihlahla, Independent Political Analyst

In a democracy, the right to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom are foundational to the well-being of society.

These are not mere catchphrases but pillars that sustain the very fabric of our democratic society. Today, these principles are under dire threat, highlighted by the actions of Standard Bank in their decision to shut down the accounts of Independent Media SA and IOL by August 21, 2023.

It's vital for every citizen to understand the gravity of this move, as it doesn't just impact the organisation but is emblematic of a discriminatory and prejudicial pattern that affects the lives of ordinary South Africans every single day.

Jeopardising Jobs and Livelihoods

The immediate effect of Standard Bank's decision threatens the livelihoods of 1600 of dedicated media employees and over 10,000 dependants. These are not mere numbers on a page; these are real people, real families, whose lives and futures have been thrown into chaos.

This action is not only arbitrary but reveals a blatant disregard for the socio-economic realities of our nation. In an environment where job security is already fragile, such decisions create an alarming precedent. It demands the question - how much power do banks hold over our lives? And who is monitoring this immense influence?

The Overreach of Banking Institutions

The disturbing fact is that for far too long, banks have operated with impunity, wielding massive power over ordinary South Africans that goes unchecked every day. A banking account once considered a convenience, is now an essential aspect of our daily lives. There is virtually nothing one can do without a bank account.

And yet, the very institutions that hold the keys to these essential services have been allowed to act in ways that can only be described as arbitrary and capricious. The decision to close our accounts, without clear justification, is a glaring example of this unchecked power.

A Banking Account: A Basic Right

We must confront the reality that a banking account should be considered a basic right for all. It is time for regulatory frameworks to catch up with this fundamental truth. The existing laissez-faire attitude towards banking practices must be challenged, and mechanisms must be put in place to prevent the kind of prejudiced actions we are experiencing.

The implications of Standard Bank's actions are profound, setting a dangerous precedent that extends far beyond Independent Media. It shakes the very foundations of media freedom, creating a pathway through which institutions can stifle voices they find inconvenient.

The actions of Standard Bank are more than a corporate decision; it is a political one that strikes at the heart of our democratic principles. As a society, we must not stand idly by while institutions wielding enormous power make decisions that can crush livelihoods and silence voices.

Regulators, government authorities, and citizens must recognise the magnitude of this issue and take decisive action. We must reaffirm our commitment to media freedom, freedom of expression, and the basic rights of all South Africans.

For our democracy to thrive, we must ensure that the institutions that wield such tremendous influence over our lives are held accountable.

Let us not allow the unchecked actions of banks to become the unseen hands that shape our society.

The time for action is now.

* Masibongwe Sihlahla is an independent political analyst.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.