Cape Town - On Monday, the Sekunjalo Group - comprising 36 applicants - appeared before the Competition Tribunal, as it brought forth an application against the biggest banks in the country.
The Sekunjalo Group application is asking the Tribunal to provide interim relief to the applicants, by reinstating its banking services and facilities until the matter has been heard and reached its verdict in the Equality Court.
The respondents in the matter include ABSA Bank, First National Bank, Nedbank, Investec Bank, Sasfin Bank, Bidvest, and Mercantile Bank.
This comes as several of South Africa’s banks have systematically closed the accounts of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings (SIH) and its related entities (the Sekunjalo Group).
IOL previously reported that the Group’s Equality Court case has attracted support from across the country. This includes the request to be certified as a class action against the banks by Gardee Godrich Attorneys, who represent about 6 000 South African citizens.
According to Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana, representing the Sekunjalo Group, this was one of the most important cases to come before courts in South Africa.
He also stated that the responses by the banks, in terms of this application, seem to have been misconstrued. Ngalwana said: “I begin by pointing out what the applicants’ case is not. I do so in the hope of assisting the banks curtail their argument by focusing on what the applicants’ case is and not what they imagine it to be, or that which they hope it had been.”
Ngalwana claimed banks were using a ‘cancel culture’ against a black-owned business.
He asked the Tribunal to do more than just raise eyebrows and asked the Tribunal to make a prima facie finding that there is a ‘group boycott’ and collective dominance by the banks against the Sekunjalo Group.
“It is crucial for purposes of this case that this panel confronts the role of restitutionary measures as demanded by the Constitution, in the competition law context.
“All too often, participation of black people in the South African economy is understood as referring to employment or consumers that are occupying the demand side of the economy. Hardly, as producers who occupy the supply side of the economy. That is why cancel culture targeting productive black businesses hardly raises an eyebrow.
“South Africans, including the authorities, seem conditioned to see black people as suppliers of labour and consumers, rather than a supplier of intellectual and productive capital. These banks cancellation of the applicants’ accounts, plays right into that paradigm.
“We ask this Tribunal to do more than just raise eyebrows but put a stop to the willy nilly cancellation of productive black businesses, by those who control the levers of the economy,” Ngalwana submitted.
Ngalwana, using an analogy, said that all the applicants were asking for, was bail from the banks’ socio-economic strangulation.
He said the Group was being targeted because they do not like Sekunjalo Group Chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, or anything of which he is part.
He stated the sanctions imposed by the banks, are usually reserved for terrorists and financial criminals.
He said the sanctions were unreasonable and out of proportion.
“These banks are flexing their economic muscle for a more sinister goal to rid the economy of a group of companies that is born of, and anchored in, the transformation of the South African economy.”
He explained that the Sekunjalo Group was a group of around 200 companies and the Group has been a partner of choice for multinationals on the African continent, Europe, and Russia.
He also submitted that the Group has been the subject of unfounded attacks over the past few years.
The Sekunjalo Group sought to challenge the incumbency and status quo, and for this, it has been subjected to attacks, Ngalwana said.
He pointed out that there were three factors the Tribunal should have regard to: evidence relating to alleged prohibited practice, the need to prevent serious or irreparable harm to the applicant, and the balance of views.
Ngalwana also pointed out that the banks all have a substantial shareholder in common - the Public Investment Corporation (the PIC), which they do not deny.
He also underlined the banks’ modus operandi as follows: it places accounts on review, then they refuse to grant any credit, refuse to open any new accounts, send emails for information relating to existing accounts, send notices of closure of accounts and then finally close accounts.
This is a developing story.