A threat to media freedom

An open letter from Independent Media to Thulani Gcabashe – Chairperson, Standard Bank Group; Sim Tshabalala – Group CEO, Standard Bank; and Lungisa Fuzile – CEO, Standard Bank South Africa

We write to you as employees of Independent Media, the largest print media house in South Africa, with more than 25 newspaper titles across the country, employing more than 1 400 people.

We begin this communication to you by citing democratic South Africa’s first president, Nelson Mandela, who said: “Only a free and (diverse) press can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power.”

We assume that through Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the Sikuvile journalism awards, this is a sentiment shared by your organisation.

In paying tribute to the role an independent media plays in a democracy, Mr Fuzile said at the 2022 edition of the awards: “You are a great service to our relatively young democracy. I will make a bold statement and say that without you our democracy would fail.”

These words by Mr Fuzile ring hollow against the background of Standard Bank’s intention to shut the banking facilities of the country’s largest independent media organisation and are tantamount to an extreme form of censorship harking back to the conduct of the apartheid state’s assault on media freedom and freedom of expression.

Standard Bank’s plan to close the banking facilities of Independent Media is noted with extreme disbelief and disappointment. This action poses a very serious risk to our democracy, media freedom and freedom of expression. It also violetes our Consititutional rights.

We ask you to consider the following:

From the outset, we will not allow you to silence us as journalists and a media house. Closing the bank accounts of Independent Media means depriving its collective audience of more than 10 million readers of their daily news, and along with it, their right to know. It will also lead to their voices being silenced and deprive them of their right to contribute towards dialogue, debate, and constructive criticism, which are essential ingredients in a thriving democracy. In short, your decision, whatever the reasoning, borders on censorship.

Your intention to close Independent Media’s bank accounts will also endanger the livelihoods of all the company’s 1400 employees and all their dependents – at a time when South Africa’s unemployment rate stands at nearly 35%.

Your threat, if successfully carried out, could result in a significant reduction of competition in the media space, and monopoly of the news. Is this what Standard Bank wants? Leaving no alternative for millions of South Africans?

We bring to your attention that it was our media house that exposed the PPE corruption scandal involving the highest office in the land. It was Independent Media that exposed the bank statements of the so-called “CR17” campaigns when other media houses denounced the story as fake news before, they followed our lead. It was recently this media house that broke the story about the Phala Phala theft involving the president and others, as well as corporates implicated in state capture.

These are but a few examples of the work that we do, something our competitors do not do.

Above all, Independent Media is the only media house that is truly sympathetic to the plight of the poor, giving a voice to the voiceless. Our ongoing campaigns include denouncing gender-based violence through our Don’t Look Away project and raising awareness about racism through our Racism Stops with Me and the Dignity Project, which highlights the plight of homeless people. We highlight these examples to demonstrate the role we play in giving a voice to those who were previously denied such platforms.

The implications of your decision to close Independent Media’s bank accounts are so severe that they threaten to reverse the gains of our young democracy. With respect, this is the very democracy that also protects your organisation so it can operate without hindrance.

In conclusion, it would be in the interest of all South Africans that you reconsider your decision, which we view as political and a direct attack on media freedom. Your decision contradicts your patronage of the Sikuvile Journalism Awards. If you are genuine in your commitment to supporting journalism, it challenges the morality of your decision.

Leave us to serve South Africans by providing an essential and crucial service to our communities.


Independent Media Editors:

  • Aneez Salie – Editor-in-Chief
  • Aziz Hartley – Cape Argus
  • Adri Senekal de Wet – Business Report
  • Melani Peters – Weekend Argus Sunday
  • Jade Otto – Weekend Argus Saturday
  • Taariq Halim – Daily Voice
  • Siyavuya Mzantsi – Cape Times
  • Sizwe Dlamini – Independent Media Investigations
  • Piet Rampedi – Pretoria News
  • Sifiso Mahlangu – Star
  • Kashiefa Ajam – Saturday Star
  • Zingisa Mkhuma – Sunday Independent
  • Philani Makhanya – The Mercury
  • Zoubair Ayoob – Independent on Saturday
  • Sandile Mdadane – Sunday Tribune
  • Ayanda Mdluli – Daily News
  • Kiki Ntuli – Isolezwe
  • Aakash Bramdeo – Post
  • Chantel Erfort – Cape Community Media
  • Vukile Sonandzi – Isolezwe lesiXhosa
  • Lance Witten – IOL