Standard Bank’s war on media freedom

EFF leader Julius Malema has warned against the widespread “weaponisation” of banks. Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA)

EFF leader Julius Malema has warned against the widespread “weaponisation” of banks. Picture: Timothy Bernard / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 3, 2023


Johannesburg - EFF leader Julius Malema has warned against the widespread “weaponisation” of banks that has seen the country’s leading banks close down accounts of individuals and organisations such as the Sekunjalo Group of companies.

Sekunjalo reported that its bank accounts, including those of Independent Media and other media companies, would be closed by Standard Bank on August 21 due to what the bank cited as reputational damage.

This closure of accounts belonging to titles such as The Cape Argus, Cape Times, The Star, Daily News, IOL and several major news outlets around the country that are Independent Media brands could impact on staff salaries, which are paid via Standard Bank accounts.

The decision by Standard Bank comes after the appeals court ruled last week that the Competition Tribunal had erred in ordering SBSA, Mercantile Bank and Access Bank to either reopen or not close Sekunjalo’s accounts.

The banks had appealed the tribunal’s ruling in September 2022 that there was evidence they had engaged in anti-competitive behaviour when deciding to stop doing business with Sekunjalo.

Standard Bank’s decision to terminate the accounts was based on fear of reputational damage after unfavourable media reports on the findings of the Mpati Commission of Inquiry’s Report into the Public Investment Corporation.

Malema said he too had had his accounts closed down, adding that banks had become bullies who must be stopped should the Red Berets assume power in the upcoming elections. He added that his son, still a minor, had his applications to open accounts declined.

Malema was speaking during a media briefing at the party’s Winnie Madikizela Mandela House in Gandhi Square yesterday following its 10-year anniversary.

“Banks are being weaponised. We are all suffering. We are being bullied by banks in South Africa. It is just a matter of time before we act against this injustice. One of these days, we will mobilise and find a way to deal with this. I am saying the day will come when we deal with the banks once and for all,” he said.

Malema said the banks were selective in whose accounts they chose to close, adding that his were closed even though there was no court ruling against him.

He said he had experienced the vindictiveness of local banks, adding that his were closed while President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been accused of money laundering amid the theft of foreign currency from his Phala Phala farm, still had access to his accounts.

“They have not closed Ramaphosa’s bank accounts. If there is someone who should not have an account, it is Ramaphosa now,” he said.

He added that the imminent closure of accounts belonging to Independent Media was a direct ploy to deal with the chairman of Sekunjalo, Iqbal Survé.

On Tuesday, Independent Media confirmed that Standard Bank South Africa had issued letters to Independent Media and 30 other companies in the Sekunjalo Group, informing them of the closure of their business bank accounts on August 21. The letters, signed by Herbert Smith Freehills South Africa Attorneys Inc, were issued on July 21 and gave Sekunjalo a 30-day notice period.

SBSA’s communication followed a Competition Appeal Court of SA ruling that upheld the decision taken by three banks to stop offering their services to Sekunjalo companies.

“They are fighting Dr Iqbal Survé; they are now going to close the accounts of his companies. This is why we have been saying we need a state commercial bank in order to deal with this. It is something that is urgent, as we are being harassed by banks owned by Afrikaner men who are the owners of these banks.

“These banks are bullies, especially Absa and FNB. However, that day will come. They will think they are dreaming. No court has found us guilty of anything, but they have closed and weaponised banks against black South Africans, who are the majority in this country,” Malema added.

The Star