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‘Gangsters in suits’: Unions lambast Standard Bank for threatening media freedom

Tahir Maepa, secretary-general of the Public Service and Commercial Union of South Africa. Picture: File

Tahir Maepa, secretary-general of the Public Service and Commercial Union of South Africa. Picture: File

Published Jul 21, 2022

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Pretoria - The Insurance and Banking Staff Association (Ibsa), a union representing workers in the banking sector, has slammed Standard Bank’s decision to close the banking facilities of Sekunjalo Group’s Independent Media.

This comes in the wake of a notice of intention issued by the bank to sever its relationship with one of South Africa’s oldest publishers.

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The union’s legal head, Luke Bradley, said the move threatened to put at risk about 1 400 jobs of workers and their dependants.

He said Ibsa was concerned the development was also likely to encroach upon media freedom. “In a democratic South Africa, we are all entitled to freedom of speech and Ibsa is severely concerned whenever such freedom is put in danger or encroached upon,” he said.

Bradley said the union advocated for all freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, adding that “freedom of the press is vital in any democracy and independence of the press is paramount in order to retain such freedom”.

The Public Service and Commercial Union of South Africa said the bank’s move was “an attack on one of the last independent, free and non-aligned media groups”.

Union secretary-general Tahir Maepa called on civil society, unions, and democratically minded organisations to stand up and fight for Independent Media.

“We need to boycott these banks and shut them down. Banks need clients and we the people of this country are the ones who are feeding these monsters. It is time we stop feeding this virus that is poised to consume all of us,” he said.

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Maepa, said the move targeting the media group did not “come as a surprise but in reality, gives credence to the narrative that the whole move is not only business related but rather politically motivated”.

He said the bank’s imminent move was the last straw in a well co-ordinated assault on Sekunjalo and Independent Media’s chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé. “His only sin is to dare own a platform that has been historically reserved for white business. Media is a powerful tool that has, over the ages, been used to dump propaganda for purposes of a particular political outcome.

“The apartheid government did this very well and those who were protégés of the apartheid machinery in government have graduated with distinctions in this area of information terrorism. The so-called ‘comprehensive client review’ by Standard Bank is a smokescreen perpetrated by gangsters in suits,” he said.

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The SA Federation of Trade Unions, condemned the bank’s move, saying it “is going to stifle the voice of the Independent Media in the period of democracy”. Union spokesperson Trevor Shaku said the move could lead to company closure.

“The three big print corporations are Media24, Arena Holdings and Independent Media. If Sekunjalo as a Group is driven out of business by the banks, it means the unique narrative and perspective offered by Independent Media will be shut and the public will be limited to less diversified views,” Shaku said.

While Standard Bank, in its official statement, has not disclosed the reasons for severing ties with the company, other banks cited “reputational risk”. This is something that Sekunjalo as a group is challenging through several interrelated legal actions.

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