Dear readers, we are in trouble.
By we, I mean the journalists at the Daily Voice, at the Cape Argus, the Weekend Argus, Cape Times and IOL.
And all our colleagues employed by the Independent Media stable around the country – at newspapers like The Star in Joburg, the Pretoria News in Tshwane, the Mercury and Daily News in Durban, and many more.
All 1400 of us have become potential casualties of a politically-motivated campaign by the major South African banks against the Sekunjalo Group, which owns Independent Media.
The very principle of press freedom is in trouble.
We believe the aim of this campaign is to silence our voices, which have become a bit too loud in exposing corruption in the highest offices in government.
In the latest attack, Standard Bank has made public its intention to close the bank accounts of Independent Media on 30 September 2022.
The very same accounts from which our journalists’ salaries are paid.
The bank said the decision was made after a “comprehensive client review process” of Sekunjalo.
Negative reports in the public domain (by rival media companies) about Independent Media and Sekunjalo had created “reputational risk”, the bank said.
Negative reports. Nothing more.
No arrests, no fraud charges, no prosecutions, no pending court cases, no convictions, no findings of wrongdoing.
Not even a parking ticket.
If not legal, then the motive for the attack on Sekunjalo can only be political.
Scary combination – politicians and bankers.
Another big player in the “banking cartel” actually did shut the accounts of Sekunjalo earlier this year – for the same reason, reputational risk.
The Equality Court, however, ruled against Nedbank last month and interdicted them to reopen the accounts.
Now it’s Standard Bank’s turn to face a court battle, acting in open defiance of Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who had this to say in his State Capture report:
“In this day and age in SA, it is unacceptable that an institution as powerful as a bank should have no obligation to hear, whether in a discussion or in writing, what a client has to say before the bank may close the account on suspicion that the client may be involved in illegal or corrupt transactions.”
But then the banks are a law unto themselves, and get away with bullying clients and violating businesses’ right to trade freely.
Readers, why am I telling you all of this?
Because come 30 September, if Standard Bank manages to shut down Independent Media’s accounts, we may not be able to operate.
Over 20 newspapers around the country may not be published.
The absence of the country’s largest newspaper publisher will be a major blow to the media industry and diversity, as a black-owned company.
It will severely weaken press freedom, which is a vital component of any democracy.
Millions of people who use Independent Media’s platforms will have to go elsewhere to seek help, to tell their stories and air their views.
Of course, you are free to do so. You don’t have to follow Independent Media’s news.
You don’t have to support Sekunjalo and be a fan of its owner, Dr Iqbal Surve.
Politics aside, consider very seriously the implication that 1400 Independent Media employees could soon be out of work.
Over 8000 people, in fact, in the broader Sekunjalo grouping of companies.
We invite you to join Independent Media and our journalists in our battle against Standard Bank – for press freedom, for our very survival.