The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) condemns Standard Bank’s decision to sever ties with Independent Media Pty Ltd. This decision follows a threat from all commercial banks to cut ties with Iqbal Surve (Sekunjalo Group and others) ’s companies. Most of the banks have already acted on this threat and severed ties with companies linked to Dr Surve.

The previous banks that have severed ties with the Sekunjalo linked companies cited reputational damages linked to Dr Surve being implicated in wrongdoing by the Judicial Commission into allegations of impropriety at Public Investment Corporation (PIC).

SAFTU condemns this move by Standard Bank and other banks which have already cut ties with Sekunjalo Group as it will completely suffocate and drive them out of business. The consequences will be negative and profound.

Impact on workers

The negative consequences of this move by the banks will affect workers among others. Like any media group or newsroom, the Independent Media employs a wide range of workers from field journalists to editors, camera persons, etc.

In the interim period, these workers will be affected or inconvenienced by non-payments as the Independent Media attempts to move its account to another bank. If all banks, including Nedbank against which Sekunjalo has an interim interdict prohibiting them from closing their accounts succeed in cutting ties with Sekunjalo and its linked companies, the business might close and the workers will be retrenched.

Hypocrisy and selective morality That these commercial banks closing Sekunjalo and linked companies’ transaction accounts is premised on risks of reputational damage is utter hypocrisy. The wrong doing Dr Surve is premised on the R4,3 billion investment they got from PIC: how they obtained the investment which bought shares at inflated/oversubscribed value.

Let us assume that every of the commission’s findings is true and correct. In that case, the PIC is correct to claim every last cent of its investment that would have been obtained irregularly, and to sue the company for “inflating information about its financial prospects”. That is workers monies, and attempts to elicit such investments on misrepresented information cannot be condoned.

But have banks turned into paragons of morality and marauding as upholders of high ethical standards?

SAFTU is repulsed by the selective morality of these banks, and calls out their hypocrisy. South Africa’s capitalist class is said to be the most corrupt section of capital in the world, and this is reflected in the cases that exposes them colluding and defrauding shareholders, government and consumers alike including the stealing monies through tax dodging.

For instance, the very standard bank is a banker of Steinhoff in this country. But despite Steinhoff’s accounting frauds that costed the pension holders who were among the investors in that company billions in shares plummeting, no bank has threatened to close the bank accounts of Steinhoff. Have they closed all of Markus Jooste’s accounts, and companies linked to him? If not, is it because they are part of the dominant faction of capital in the country – the traditional white capitalists?

Besides, the most compelling case here is the one involving the very banks which today are marauding as paragons of ethical standards. The banks are charged of manipulating the exchange rate between the US Dollar and the South African Rand (USD/ZAR) between 2007 and 2013.

Bidding against this prosecution by the Competition Tribunal, the banks implicated in the charges challenged the prosecution in June 2020 only on jurisdiction and not substance, indicating that they are running away from accountability.

Unlike Surve’s schemes at PIC which we unapologetically detest, the banks not only damaged their reputation as honest financial institutions upholding high ethical standard of trade, they damaged the banking reputation of South Africa as well as sabotaging the South African Rand. Compromising the value of the currency is to compromise the economic soundness of our economy, and the major players in that economy: businesses and households. If a study could be done into the economic effects of their actions in this period, a lot can be revealed.

However, let us agree with the commercial banks; that business enterprises that are found to be dishonest and committing fraud should immediately have their bank accounts closed, and even further, be liquidated or sold.

In line with this, SAFTU therefore demands that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) close bank accounts of commercial banks including ABSA, Nedbank, Standard Bank, RMB and others at the SARB. Further, that all other financial institutions that are implicated in that manipulation such as Investec and the commercial banks be nationalised.

Curtailing media and press diversity

But the selective morality of the banks seems to be underpinned by political motives of the factions of capitalism, whose bitter fights have become highly pronounced in the country lately. In the absence of a free and truly independent media, SAFTU does not want media whose investments are dominated by the traditional white bourgeois with sprinkles of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) holdings.

Independent Media provides a unique narrative, no matter how controversial. Besides the decuplets, whistle-blowers who want to expose the rot of white monopoly capital and their allied black comprador find it easier, assuring and safer to break their stories through Independent Media, as it has established its reputation that it is not pro-western imperialism.

In addition to their unique narrative and perspective, their online news are not closed behind a paywall. In other words, they make information freely accessible to the working class people who cannot afford prices of print and online subscriptions.

The siege of Independent Media by the hypocritical commercial banks will rob the media landscape of press diversity, lead to retrenchments and open a space for other narratives to be hegemonic

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