Standard Bank brutalises climate activists: A call to boycott Standard Bank for the sake of our planet

Johannesburg, South Africa 22 September 2023 — Photo by Kiara Affat

In a poignant display of determination and an unwavering commitment to creating a more just world, the peaceful protestors of Extinction Rebellion Gauteng and allied movements have been met with brutality and excessive force at the hands of both private security personnel hired by Standard Bank and the South African Police Service. Their crime? A demand for dialogue, a plea for a liveable future, and a call for justice.  

For three consecutive days, from the 19th to the 21st of September, activists camped peacefully and resolutely at Standard Bank’s office located at 30 Baker  Street in Rosebank, Johannesburg. The demands were clear: they sought a live debate with Standard Bank’s leaders, Kenny Fihla and Sim Tshabalala, and implored the bank to commit to ending its financing of new coal projects by 2024,  using those funds to support renewable electricity access for the poor communities they claim to serve. These are not unreasonable requests; these are simply what must be done.  

Standard Bank’s responses proved what was already known: their primary objective is to protect profits over the legitimate concerns of their customers and communities. They were cowardly; releasing statements that were vapid,  meaningless and deflected responsibility. They called the protestors unpeaceful,  posing a “health and safety risk to staff and customers”. Yet the decision to take to disruptive, non-violent direct action emerged after 4 years of trying to comply with their channels of communication, with implorations falling on deaf ears.  Their violent ethos was put on display: they are unwilling to engage on their criminal acts perpetuated by their financing strategies and the private security they authorise. The executives and board should be ashamed of themselves.  

Despite the group’s peaceful intentions, Standard Bank not only chose to ignore these calls for dialogue but made false claims of sending representatives throughout the day on the 21st of September. Instead, when the activists began singing, chanting and moving closer to the building’s entrance, Standard Bank’s hired security personnel unleashed a wave of inexcusable and abhorrent violence.  Activists were subjected to illegal acts of physical abuse, including punching,  kicking, choking, pushing, and scratching. The very essence of peaceful protest was violated.   

The South African Police Service was called upon, but their intervention was not immediate. After two hours of consultation with the bank, they finally offered a  conditional resolution: if the protestors moved to the pavement away from the office entrance, a delegation would be allowed into the building to engage with  Standard Bank Management after an eight-minute delay. The activists complied,  relocating peacefully to the pavement.  

However, after 20 minutes, when two Extinction Rebellion Gauteng members  approached the police to inquire about the delay, they were informed that the 

delay was due to tent materials not being removed—a condition that was not previously specified.  

The protestors, displaying remarkable cooperation and goodwill, began dismantling the occupation site and removing the materials. 

Police then received an order to destroy and remove these materials, resulting in damage to personal possessions. When a protestor, Angelo Doyle, voiced his dissent by calling the police ‘Cyril Ramaphosa supporters,’ he was met with a  shocking act of brutality. He was grabbed by Colonel Mere, attacked and forcibly pulled over a security barricade and thrown to the ground. Police pressed their legs against his neck while holding him to the floor. Angelo was subsequently taken into the Standard Bank building and held illegally for four hours. At no point was he informed of the charges against him, and his safety was not confirmed to the activist group.  

He currently remains in custody at Rosebank police station and is due to appear in  Hillbrow Magistrates Court at 9:00 on Friday, 22nd September. 

We stand here today, in solidarity with Angelo Doyle and all those who endured the unwarranted violence perpetrated by Standard Bank and the South African  Police Service. We condemn these acts unequivocally, and we call upon all those who believe in justice, sustainability, and the future of our planet to take a stand. 

Standard Bank, with its annual investment of R120 billion into fossil fuels, has the power to make a profound difference. By redirecting these funds towards renewable energy projects, they could meet South Africa’s entire energy needs through clean energy sources in just four years (R475 billion). Sim Tshabalala,  who earns R55 million annually, could bring electricity to underserved communities in Meadowlands, Fleurhof, Mzimhlope, Bekkersdal, Orange Farm, the  Vaal and Soweto tomorrow by making just choices. Additionally, the bank’s proclivity to violent repression extends beyond the South African borders. This is evident in their refusal to distance themselves from contributing to the East  African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) which has been responsible for numerous human rights violations, violence against defenders and environmental harm in  Uganda and Tanzania. 

Extinction Rebellion call for immediate action: 

  1. Boycott Standard Bank: We urge every citizen, NGO and Civil Society Organisation of South Africa to withdraw their accounts from Standard Bank. A bank that supports violence against peaceful protestors cannot align with the values of justice and sustainability. 
  2. Corporate Partnerships: We call upon all corporate partners of Standard Bank to withdraw their affiliations. Supporting an institution that uses violence against peaceful activists contradicts ethical business practices. 
  3. Artists and Public Figures: We implore artists, public figures, and influencers to withdraw their associations with Standard Bank. Your voices have the power to drive change and demand accountability.

The events of the past days have underscored the urgent need for change. We, as concerned citizens, have the power to shape our collective destiny. It is our obligation to stand up for justice and a just future.  

Extinction Rebellion Gauteng will not be discouraged. We intend to organise an even larger demonstration at Standard Bank to highlight their complicity in global heating and the violent practices underpinning their business.  

Grace Alter: +27790236865