The colonial history of Standard Bank continues

The 140-year-old Standard Bank building at 13 Adderley Street in the heart of Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

The 140-year-old Standard Bank building at 13 Adderley Street in the heart of Cape Town. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 8, 2023


SOUTH Africa is home to multinational corporations (MNCs) in Africa dating back to the colonial era when these corporations acted as agents of their home countries at the expense of black people after colonial conquest.

While some of these MNCs came to repent of their disruptive ill-treatment of the African people, Standard Bank South Africa appears to be one of the super-powerful financial institutions that have continued to operate uninterrupted despite many voices pointing out the bank’s racial profiling of black people.

With total assets of more than R3 trillion and a market capitalisation of $14.5 billion (about R287bn) as of June 20, 2023, it is not shocking how Africa’s largest bank, even after rebranding, appears to continue its patterns and trends of oppression through the imminent economic exclusion of many black people who, in this particular case, will undoubtedly be negatively impacted if Standard Bank terminates the bank accounts of Independent Media.

With less than a few days left before Standard Bank puts a final nail in the coffin after issuing a notice of termination of banking services for the Sekunjalo Group following the judgment by the Competition Appeal Court (CAC) which found in July that Standard Bank had not engaged in anti-competitive behaviour when it put Sekunjalo’s accounts under review based on unfounded allegations of reputational risk.

Following the ruling, Standard Bank told Sekunjalo it would shut its banking facilities on August 21, but this was postponed. The bank’s potential closure of Independent Media’s account has triggered uncertainty, confusion and claims that the bank was anti-black even though it benefited from billions of dollars from those it continued to ill-treat.

During the BRICS Youth Summit, Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma decried the lack of control in the financing and banking system in South Africa, saying that in South Africa “we are forced to kneel before five banks”.

“This represents some of the most concentrated banking systems in the world. The greater concentration of banking to the big five has clearly undermined accountability, hindered development, stifled competition, and passed on the cost burden to citizens,” Dlamini Zuma said.

Much like many banks, Standard Bank emerged not to help build Africa but as a reaction to the British colonial banking structure that was established to assist with the plundering of resources from the African continent.

The formation of Standard Bank:

The Standard Bank was a British overseas bank. It was incorporated in London on October 15, 1862, as Standard Bank of British South Africa. It was formed by a group of South African businessmen led by John Paterson.


1862 – Standard Bank is established as The Standard Bank of British South Africa following the signing of its Memorandum of Association on October 13. It is registered and incorporated on October 15.

1863 – The bank opens its first branch in Port Elizabeth on January 16. Port Elizabeth also serves as the bank’s headquarters in South Africa.

1870 – Following large diamond discoveries in Griqualand West, Standard Bank is the first bank to open a branch on the diamond fields, on November 12 in Barkly West (then Klipdrift).

1885 – The bank's headquarters in South Africa move from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town on December 31.

1886 – Gold is discovered on the Witwatersrand. Standard Bank opens its Johannesburg branch in a tent on October 11, the first bank on the Witwatersrand goldfields.

1892 – Standard Bank opens its first branch outside South Africa in Harare (then Salisbury), Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) on July 20.

1901 – The bank’s 100th branch opens in Port Shepstone on May 1.

1915 – The bank opens its first branches in Namibia (then South-West Africa), in Luderitzbucht, Windhoek and Swakopmund, in August.

1953 – Standard Bank’s administrative head office moves from Cape Town to Pretoria.

1959 – The bank’s head office moves from Pretoria to Johannesburg.

1970 – The bank occupies its prestigious new head office building at 78 Fox Street, Johannesburg.

1977 – Standard Bank opens a branch in Jabulani, Soweto on February 15, the first bank to open a full branch in Soweto.

1978 – Standard Bank acquires a 25% share in the new insurance company, Liblife Controlling Corporation (Pty) Ltd, formed to acquire a controlling interest in Liberty Holdings.

1988 – Standard Bank establishes a representative office in London.

1988 – The severing of Standard Bank’s ties with Standard Chartered Bank enables it to again expand into Africa with the acquisition of a 49% share in UnionBank of Swaziland Ltd.

1989 – The bank opens its first international branch in Taipei on June 28.

1990 – Its new head office complex, Standard Bank Centre in Simmonds Street, Johannesburg, is officially opened on August 6.

1992 – SBIC acquires the banking operations of ANZ Grindlays Bank in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, Uganda and DRC (then Zaire) and minority interests in Nigeria and Ghana on November 2. Further expansion into Africa follows.

2002 – Standard Bank Investment Corporation changes its name to Standard Bank Group Limited on June 3.

2002 – Standard Bank and the Liberty Group form Stanlib Ltd, a joint wealth management company. Stanlib was launched on May 15.

2008 – Standard Bank finalises its strategic partnership agreement with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the world's largest bank by market capitalisation. The ICBC becomes a 20% shareholder in the Standard Bank Group.

2011 – Standard Bank opens its 500th branch outside South Africa, in Ajao Estate, Nigeria.