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Climate activists stand in solidarity after arrests outside Standard Bank

Climate activists stand in solidarity after arrests outside Standard Bank
Extinction Rebellion Gauteng and social justice activists protest outside Standard Bank head office in Rosebank, Johannesburg on Wednesday, 13 March 2024. (Photo: Julia Evans)

As they have done many times before, climate activists gathered outside Standard Bank’s head office in Johannesburg on Wednesday in solidarity with those previously arrested at the bank and continuing their call for the end of fossil fuel financing.

‘For years we have gathered outside the Standard Bank headquarters. For years we have handed over memorandum after memorandum — and we have been met with arrogance, violence and silence,” said Zaki Mamdoo from the #StopEACOP campaign to protesters outside Standard Bank’s head office in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

“Despite that … despite the arrests … we will keep coming back.”

This time, along with calling for the bank to end its involvement in fossil fuel projects, the activists were standing in solidarity with two climate activists who were arrested at previous Standard Bank protests.

climate activists standard bank

Fifteen minutes after activists arrived at Standard Bank head office in Rosebank, Johannesburg, on Wednesday, 13 March 2024, metropolitan police officers and vehicles arrived on the scene, joining private security. (Photo: Julia Evans)

The picket, organised by Extinction Rebellion Gauteng and #StopEACOP, a campaign against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), gathered more than 60 participants, including community-based organisations such as Mining Affected Communities United in Action (Macua), the Ekurhuleni Environmental Organisation and the United Front.

Extinction Rebellion has been holding weekly demonstrations, including blockades of the bank’s car park, every Friday morning since October, after staging a three-day sit-in outside the bank.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Activists say ‘no more soft approach’ to climate change, need more from Standard Bank

Central to the protesters’ demands is the call for Standard Bank to adopt a coal exclusion policy and for the institution to cease financing environmentally harmful oil and gas projects like the Cabo Delgado gas projects in Mozambique and EACOP in Uganda and Tanzania.

climate activists standard bank

Extinction Rebellion activists Malik Dasoo (far right) and Grace Alter ask Standard Bank spokesperson Ron Derby (centre) why CEO Sim Tshabalala won’t come down and engage with them. (Photo: Julia Evans)

climate activists standard bank

Climate activists demand a live debate with Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala and corporate and investment banking head Kenny Fihla. (Photo: Julia Evans)

They are also demanding that the bank’s CEO, Sim Tshabalala, and its corporate and investment banking head, Kenny Fihla, meet them for a live public debate.

‘I am not used’

Nester Ndelebele, who comes from a mining town in Sedibeng, said she heard people say she was being “used” for the protest.

“I am not used,” said Ndeleble, a member of Macua. “I’m doing what I want and this is my right. I must stand up for myself.”

climate activists nester ndebele

Nester Ndebele, from Mining Affected Communities United in Action, at the protest outside Standard Bank head office in Rosebank. (Photo: Julia Evans)

She said that for years she had travelled throughout South Africa and seen the impact mining has had on people.  

She attended Wednesday’s protest “to put my foot down with Standard Bank. I even cancelled my account with them.”

Unathi Boyi from the Be The Future Foundation said he woke up at 4am to catch a taxi from Bekkersdal, a township and old mining town west of Joburg, to attend the protest. 

Boyi said mining had rendered his community’s land unfarmable and polluted their water, which is why he protested to stop Standard Bank from supporting more mining projects. 

Intimidation and arrests

“We invite you to join us as we take a clear stand to show the bank that we are not intimidated,” the call to protest action said.

Extinction Rebellion said there had been a growing police presence at the regular Friday morning protests outside the bank’s headquarters, which culminated in Malik Dasoo’s arrest last Friday, 8 March.

climate activists standard bank dasoo

Extinction Rebellion activist Malik Dasoo was arrested outside Standard Bank on 8 March 2024. Charges of public violence and inciting violence were dropped the following Monday (11 March) at Hillbrow Magistrates’ Court. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Dasoo, an Extinction Rebellion activist, was arrested by SAPS Public Order Policing officers outside one of the bank’s vehicle entrances.

He repeatedly tried to walk in front of the vehicle entrance and SAPS officers repeatedly pushed him to the side. In cases of sporadic protest where there’s a serious safety risk, SAPS instructions require officers to negotiate with protesters and give them two warnings before using force.

According to activists, Dasoo was not given the warnings or informed of the reason for his arrest before he was dragged to a police vehicle. 

Dasoo remained in the vehicle for 45 minutes before being taken to the Rosebank Police Station. Charges against him of public violence and inciting violence were dropped on Monday, 11 March at the Hillbrow Magistrates’ Court.

Watch video here

Amnesty International South Africa attended the protest last Friday as human rights observers. Shenilla Mohamed, the executive director of Amnesty International SA, said: “The disproportionate response and intimidation tactics used by SAPS Public Order Police … is intolerable. 

“It is unacceptable that the SAPS resorted to heavy-handedness and threats to disperse peaceful protesters. The police must remember that people have the right to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest.”  

Angelo Doyle arrest

climate activists doyle

Climate activist Angelo Doyle protests outside the Standard Bank head office in Rosebank on Wednesday, 13 March 2024. He was arrested in September 2023 in the same place. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Climate activist Angelo Doyle was arrested in  September when police were trying to shut down a three-day sit-in outside the bank. 

Doyle was dragged into the Standard Bank by SAPS officers and kept there for four hours. Vuyokazi Yokwe, an attorney from Right2Protest, who was facilitating Doyle’s release, told Daily Maverick that she was refused access to her client.

Doyle was taken to Rosebank Police Station, where he remained overnight before being released on bail. He was charged with common assault.

Watch video here

Doyle has  since appeared in the Hillbrow Magistrates’ Court more than a dozen times.  

Why Standard Bank?

Grace Alter from Extinction Rebellion said they continued to protest at Standard Bank because their demands had not been met.

She said Extinction Rebellion had also demonstrated outside Shell, Sasol and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, and planned to protest outside Eskom.

Dasoo said they had focused on Standard Bank because it had the biggest fossil fuel portfolio out of all the commercial banks in SA.

climate activists standard bank

Police, private security and Standard Bank employees watch behind a security gate as activists protest. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Shareholder activist organisation Just Share analysed Standard Bank Group’s climate disclosures from 2022, published on 31 March 2023 (the new disclosures are expected to come out next month). They found that Standard Bank’s exposure to coal mining, oil, gas and power generation from fossil fuels increased by 22% from 2021 to 2022, from R97.6-billion to R119.4-billion. 

“Their investments have created human rights violations and caused more environmental destruction than any other bank,” Dasoo said.

“They have the highest potential to meet the country’s transition requirements given their enormous balance sheet.”

Just Share published a report in November which found that Standard Bank scored the lowest when it came to what SA’s big five banks have put in place to exclude financing fossil fuels.

The assessment was conducted across four categories comprising 20 indicators with a total maximum score of 85 points. (Source: Just Share ‘How cool is your bank?’ report)

All of the big five banks have excluded financing for new coal-fired power generation, but Standard Bank, along with FirstRand and Absa, has no plans to exclude financing for coal mining.

‘Irresponsible’ to cease coal funding

Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom told Daily Maverick that they had targets to reduce exposure to thermal coal, which included coal mining, and would only finance new coal mines in cases where there was a positive environmental impact.

“For example, a mine located next to a power station generates lower emissions than a mine located further away, given the emissions generated in transporting the coal,” he said.

“South Africa remains heavily dependent on coal-fired power generation [and] it would be irresponsible to cease funding for coal when our economy remains highly dependent on coal power.”

Three of the big five banks, Absa, FirstRand and Standard Bank, increased financing of fossil fuels by more than 30% in the reporting year. 

climate activists standard bank

Metropolitan Police officer speaks to activists as a legal observer Dylan Gons (right), a law graduate, looks on outside the Standard Bank Head Office, Rosebank, 13 March 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

One of the biggest concerns — and a large driver of the many protests outside Standard Bank over the years — is Standard Bank’s involvement in the East African Crude Oil Pipeline, slated to start construction in 2025.

Despite ongoing concerns regarding environmental and social impacts, Linstrom said the bank was still reviewing the findings of environmental and social reports by independent consultants and assessing the project in terms of its policies and processes.

When asked about its large fossil fuel portfolio, Linstrom said that given the bank’s 160-year history, “wide geographical footprint and the historical dependence of much of the world, including Africa, on fossil fuels to provide electricity, fuel and heating, it is inevitable that the bank’s portfolio will include a substantial exposure to fossil fuels”.

He noted that Standard Bank’s recent financing patterns focused heavily on renewable power generation over fossil fuel generation. “For every R1 invested in new fossil fuel power, we have invested R5 in new renewable energy power generation,” Linstrom said.

Robyn Hugo, the director of Climate Change Engagement at Just Share, said, “All of SA’s big five banks have excluded funding coal-fired power for some time. It is misleading to compare its funding of renewable energy with its funding of coal power. A comparison which is much more revealing of a bank’s commitment to integrating climate risk is its percentage share of financing for renewables in its total energy financing.”

Just Share’s report did note that Standard Bank’s on- and off-balance-sheet exposure to renewable power generation increased by 84% to R26.3-billion from 2021 to 2022, but pointed out that of all five banks, only Standard Bank’s lending to renewable energy was below 20% of its total energy financing.

Standard Bank’s total exposure to fossil fuels, taking into account all its financing, including power generation, exploration, extraction and production, is about 4.5 times higher than to renewable energy (for its total on- and off-balance-sheet exposure, and 4.3 times higher for its on-balance-sheet exposure). DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Modern day hippies. I don’t disagree with the cause, but why prey on easy targets, and why not rather contribute in a more positive manner starting at home. Our government keeps stalling on green energy projects. Why not protest at Ntuli house and try to run amok inside there. Even better still, vote for the DA in upcoming elections, who have shown decisive action with green energy projects in the Western Cape. I hope they walk back to where they came from once the protest is over.

    • Gareth Fernandes says:

      Malcolm has completely misunderstood the nature of the climate crisis. The extremely conservative UN IPCC has said very clearly that even if we were to stop all new fossil fuel exploration and just use up all existing sites until they are empty, we still have far too much CO2 in the atmosphere for a descent future. To continue to build more fossil fuel infrastructure is not compatible with a descent future. These activists who are only asking for a livable planet for ourselves. Call them hippies if you would like. You are then a dinosaur, stuck in an old world view which no longer works. Change is happening, dinosaurs like you are trying to slow it but the truth is on “the hippies” side just like it was on the side of the anti apartheid movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights and women’s rights movements. We have to fight to change views and that is why we need these activists, and why their right to protest is protected by the constitution. Dinosaurs like you will either have to update their views in line with reality or go extinct like the dinosaurs.

      • Malcolm McManus says:

        Like I said, I don’t disagree with the cause. I just disagree with the targets of the hippies and their hypocrisy. Not living up to their own values. Half of them are probably paid to be there and don’t even have a clue about climate change. Hippies jumping on a band wagon just for the sake of it and not actually making meaningful change. I hope you dont drive a big 4 x4 . It would make you the dinosaur.

  • Henk Vallentgoed says:

    Wonder where they get the materials for their shoes, that material for their banner, fabrics in their clothing? Wonder, did they get there by walking? Barefoot?
    I do hope so, as it would be very bad to think that they drove there in a fossil fueled motor vehicles.
    As in many other parts of the world, bunch of clowns who have nothing better to do and probably gets a cold drink and some chicken for attending, funded by some rich old guy who has no friends.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    The easiest way to convince the protesters that they have got it right, is for Eskom to stop burning coal.
    Load shedding level 23?

  • Agf Agf says:

    Doomsday cult

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