ActionSA petitions Human Rights Commission to take WesBank to the Equality Court

Members of ActionSA led by its national spokesperson, Lerato Ngobeni, pickets outside the SA Human Rights Commission. Picture: Supplied

Members of ActionSA led by its national spokesperson, Lerato Ngobeni, pickets outside the SA Human Rights Commission. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 25, 2024


ActionSA says WesBank must get the harshest punishment for what they have allegedly subjected black clients to, more especially trampling on their human rights.

The party’s spokesperson, Lerato Ngobeni, said on Thursday it was unfortunate that WesBank had to find itself being the poster child for this alleged project, adding that if all other banks were found to be behaving in the same manner, that also warranted an investigation.

“We are having a lot of clients who are also complaining about how the bank has been charging them. I am also one of those clients who are feeling the brunt of this. I want to know if other people from other races fitting my profile are paying the same amount as myself,” said Ngobeni.

ActionSA National Spokeswoman Lerato Ngubeni at the Human Rights Commission in Johannesburg. Picture: Supplied

She continued to say should ActionSA find that they are in contravention of the equality and inequality clause in the country’s Constitution, then WesBank must be closed down.

Furthermore, Ngobeni said it would also be sad to see thousands of black employees of the bank being out of jobs, but reiterated that the bank needed to operate within the confines of the law.

She, however, said as the party they did not set out the time frame for the SA Human Rights Commission to process and investigate the matter.

“We haven’t set out the time frame yet for the Human Rights Commission to come back to us. We know that this has been an ongoing issue – there have been experts who spoke on this issue and nothing has been done for now. There’s a reasonable amount of time for the commission to respond to us, then we will take it from there once they have responded.”

Ngobeni said Thursday’s action was a step in the direction as they needed to know if the commission was on board, as they were the ones who were eligible to take the matter further to the Equality Court as the law was stipulated.

This matter of claims of discrimination dates back to 2019 when FNB was accused of charging its customers differently based on the colour of their skin.

At the time, social media erupted with customers demanding answers from the bank.

Lee Mhlongo, CEO of FNB Home division, unequivocally denied that there was any form of discrimination towards its black clients.

In its defence, the bank said when Saambou was placed under curatorship, FNB subsequently took over the administration of the home loan book and committed to act on behalf of former Saambou customers who may have been charged incorrect interest.

A few years later, the issue of banks doing as they please resurfaced yet again, with banks unilaterally closing bank accounts of private citizens and businesses of companies under the pretence of being “suspicious transactions”.

Columnist and communications specialist Feroza Petersen recently revealed that the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) in South Africa was now scrutinising the banking sector’s treatment of clients, with its focus on account closures, which was in response to concerns about transparency, fairness, and racism.

Petersen said the examination underscored the importance of the Financial Services Ombudsman’s role in protecting consumer rights.

The protest action follows hot on the heels of the African Transformation Movement (ATM) this week once again calling for banks to be probed for their unethical conduct.

This comes after WesBank was fingered in allegedly overcharging its black clients after a former employee of the bank revealed how the finance provider allegedly used a specific system to overcharge black clients.

According to media reports, the former employee has indicated this is common practice which the bank has allegedly been engaging in for a long time, where it intentionally charges its black clients more than their white counterparts.

This is not the first time the ATM has called for financial institutions to be probed. In November, party leader Vuyo Zungula wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa, asking him to appoint a commission of inquiry into the manipulation of the rand.

This week, the ATM said in the wake of recent allegations of unethical conduct by one of the country’s leading financial institutions, there is a need for a probe in order to hold banks accountable as such practices are a reflection of a systemic pattern to discriminate against black South Africans on the basis of race.

“The ATM finds these allegations deeply concerning, reflecting a pattern of systemic discrimination within the financial sector. It is disheartening to witness such practices, especially considering the detrimental impact on black clients who have been reportedly charged up to 18% compared to their white counterparts charged at 10%.

“As we express our concern over these allegations, the ATM reiterates the need for a comprehensive investigation into the discriminatory practices within the financial sector. Our call for a transparent and accountable legal system, as outlined in recent communications, remains crucial in ensuring justice prevails,” Zungula said.

He added that these allegations are consistent with the recent rand manipulation scandal which exposed the collusion of local and international banks against the South African rand.

“These shocking allegations, in parallel with the ongoing rand manipulation scandal, underscore the urgent need for comprehensive legal reforms and stronger regulatory frameworks within the financial sector. The ATM reiterates its call for a joint investigation into these matters, emphasising the interconnected nature of financial misconduct that perpetuates economic disparities,” he said.

The Star

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