Defend Truth


Thanks, but no thanks: Standard Bank can have its journalism award back


Leonie Joubert is an independent science writer and contributor to Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet climate desk. She was named as one of Rhodes University Journalism & Media Studies’ 50 distinguished alumni as it celebrated half a century of journalism training.

Does Standard Bank care about a liveable planet or a free press? Its thuggish handling of a journalist and climate activists during protests at its Johannesburg office this week, and its ongoing support of new fossil fuel development, suggests not.

When activists, writers and thinkers point out society’s ills and call out those complicit in upholding them — these are never convenient truths to hear — there is always blowback. One playbook strategy is to shame these uppity types by showing their complicity in the system they’re trying to tear down. 

Abolitionists in the United States were dismissed as hypocrites because they wore clothes made from cotton that had been picked by slaves. School climate protesters today are scorned because they drive to demonstrations in petrol-driven cars. I bank with Standard Bank, even though I know it’s considering financing an East African oil pipeline that’s going to keep syphoning fossil fuels out of the ground, even though scientists say that’s where they must stay if we’re to slow the escalating violence of climate collapse.

Our complicity — we’re all complicit — isn’t a sign of our moral failing. It’s the result of a system in which we have little choice but to be part of until we’ve got the alternatives we’re demanding.

Slaves had to be freed and the cotton fields tended by wage-earning labour before the garment industry could take a step towards ethical clothing (it’s still not there).

Until we have safe, affordable, greener public transport solutions, demonstrators have to travel to protests in fossil-fuelled cars. 

And I’ll switch banks when there’s one out there that isn’t in some way funding new fossil fuel extraction.

Until then, I’ll have to accept my own hypocrisy.

What I won’t do, though, is sit quietly by as Standard Bank dresses itself up as a supporter of a free press and a green future, given its handling of this week’s climate protests at its Johannesburg office, where a journalist and several activists were manhandled from its premises, some injured in the melee.

Standard Bank-sponsored journalism award leaves a bitter taste 

The climate reporting beat isn’t a sexy one, and it seldom has a red-carpet moment at journalism award ceremonies. That’s the stuff of investigative reporting in the corruption-busting hard news world.

When word came through one Saturday night in late June that the story “A Perfect Storm: Durban Floods, Climate Change, and Coastal Resiliencehad bagged a prize in the features category at the Sikuvile Journalism Awards (a prize awarded jointly to the team behind this story, and to another at News24), I almost fell off my chair (except I was in bed because of load shedding, so I was already horizontal and audio-reading a novel in the dark).  

This award is a big deal, both for a story of this nature and the team behind it.  

Climate stories are still mostly shoehorned into the environmental beat, a nice-to-have reporting extra that gets the newsroom leftovers once the apex beats — politics, business, health, even sport — have taken the lion’s share of reporting resources. It’s hard to muscle your way to the top of the prestige pile when your beat doesn’t have cash or cachet.

The award is even more significant, though, because it was given for a story produced by a tiny, independent media operation, the Media Hack Collective. This small stable was able to go head-to-head with the biggest players in the industry and share the feature award with one of the biggest media houses on the continent.

Following the devastating floods in Durban in April 2022, the Media Hack Collective saw an opportunity to use this as a case study to explore coastal city resilience in the context of climate collapse, but with a solutions journalism focus.

Getting to the bottom of what made Durban so vulnerable to a rain event of this nature — it was “extreme, but not unprecedented” — is no quick reporting gig.

The Media Hack Collective pulled together a team of highly skilled, niche journalists — me, as a long-form climate reporting specialist; others handled the data journalism side of things — an editor, a photographer and others, and published the story through The Outlier, after which it got picked up by Daily Maverick and a few international outlets.

It took months to conceptualise, fundraise, research, write, edit and publish this story, one which the Sikuvile Journalism Awards judges said was deserving because of the seamless weaving together of narrative and data journalism. Groundbreaking stuff, really. 

A story as complex, intense and important as “A Perfect Storm” would not likely happen with most newsroom budgets or priorities. It took a small, visionary team like the Media Hack Collective to take on as ambitious a project as this.

For this team to receive as high-profile an award as a Sikuvile is significant because it shows the weighty contribution that such a barely visible independent media house can make to the public discourse. 

Journalism taking a stand on the red carpet 

The acid-reflux moment came a few weeks later, though, when Clean Creatives South Africa — a civil society movement aimed at getting the public relations and advertising world to distance itself from fossil fuel-aligned clients — put a provocation out on its socials. 

Riffing off the news that a group of Australian cartoonists had recently announced their plan to boycott the prestigious Walkley Foundation journalism awards because it is sponsored by petroleum giant Ampol, Clean Creative’s Stephen Horn wrote: “This conversation needs to happen in South Africa regarding Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the Sikuvile Journalism Awards (the bank’s involvement in the Eacop oil pipeline project is hugely problematic), and SANParks Kudu Awards being sponsored by TotalEnergies.”

First, I winced — I had been asleep at the wheel. Why hadn’t I made this connection myself?

Then, I began mulling over what to do.

As an engaged citizen, and as an individual who has been writing about climate collapse for 20 years, the right thing to do is to distance myself from the award, as a small act of political protest to draw attention to the fact that one of our country’s largest and most powerful financiers is complicit in fossil fuel extraction.

Can it be allowed to buy social cred by anointing some climate reporters with a journalism award? This is a nice bit of greenwashing, even as Standard Bank promises to stick to the Equator Principles and do all its due diligence before deciding whether or not to fund the Eacop pipeline.

But at the same time, this Sikuvile award for “A Perfect Storm” was given to a team, and each person on that team deserves the recognition they received on the night and the gravitas it gives to their portfolio and CV. 

I can’t remove my name from the list of people who, together, won the Sikuvile Journalism Award for the features category that night. I can’t make a theatrical red-carpet gesture by handing back an award that isn’t mine to give back. I can’t scrub from the internet the many posts — some of which are my own — which crow about this achievement.

What I can do, now, is use the small platform that I have — the writer’s quill — to ink out my protestations.

Standard Bank: The protesters who were thrown off your premises this week were there because they’re trying to tell you that the lives of your staff and your clients are at stake, as our climate becomes dangerously unstable.

The journalist who was manhandled, and whose photographs were deleted from her phone by your security officer, was at this protest because she is part of the Fourth Estate, a crucial part of any healthy democracy.

How can you claim to care about a liveable planet or that you support excellence in journalism if this is how you clamp down on a handful of benign and non-violent climate protesters, and the reporters whose responsibility it is to bring this story to the world?

If this were my award alone, I’d give it right back.

Since it isn’t — it’s the team’s award — I’m distancing myself from it entirely. 

Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to be associated with it. DM

This is written in my personal capacity as a journalist, although the Media Hack Collective endorses this position.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Leonie Joubert says:

    Within the monolith of a financier like Standard Bank are real people who have the power to decide whether we face a dramatically unstable climate – which we’re experiencing now – or a catastrophic one.

    Those who sign off on loans that fund new fossil fuel expansion are key to slowing climate collapse.

    The science is clear: if we level off carbon pollution immediately, temperature increases level off ALMOST IMMEDIATELY. The carbon/heat pollution already in the system will take generations to scrub out of the ocean and air, but we’d stop the ongoing heating that’s got us to 1.2C warming and which has brought on a firestorm of extreme events.

    We can’t go back to business as usual once this episode is over. What will continue after this is that Standard Bank will still get to decide on whether or not to fund Eacop project.

    The science is clear: all new fossil fuel stocks need to stay in the ground.

    Banks are amongst the most powerful actors: they handle many of the loans that allow these projects to go ahead or not.

    Standard Bank says it adheres to the Equator Principles, and that it will weigh up the pros and cons of this pipeline, including the climate costs. But how do we know what their accounting will be in this cost-benefit analysis? Any conclusion that justifies going ahead with funding this pipeline simply can’t be taking into account the reality of the science, and the cost of an increasingly chaotic climate.

    • Ben Harper says:


      • John Cartwright says:

        A childish response to a serious argument. If you disagree with the argument, why not explain yourself?

        • Ben Harper says:

          There IS no argument, nothing but alarmist nonsense. No one can say how much the CO2 levels will drop if the complete cessation of fossil fuels happens. CO2 makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere and humans contribute only 3% of that 0.04% . The drama and the hype is manufactured and is a hoax. What IS a concern is the taxes that the IMF are about to impose on the world in the name of climate crisis

          • Michele Rivarola says:

            Ben did you join the flat eathers they are keen to have you as an honorary member

          • Middle aged Mike says:

            @michele35, flat earthers are believers and they are impervious to facts or arguments that don’t align with their delusion. My experience of almost all the climate loons I’ve met is that they are cut from precisely the same cloth.

          • Lucius Casca says:

            Ben is 100% correct on everything he stated. We have no idea how much it would drop.. But go ahead and tell us how virtuous you feel when poor countries put impoverished people out of work and lose reliable energy all whilst you are filling up your car, warming your water with coal powered electricity, buying goods in plastic containers and posting activist comments on your rare earth metal powered cellphone.

          • Keith Richmond says:

            See the article by Renee Cho, “You asked: If CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere, how does it drive global warming?” – Columbia Climate School website.

          • James Webster says:

            And how do you explain the receding icecaps, the rising sea sea-levels, the birds that migrate earlier and later, the birds that lay eggs too soon, the extremes of temperature we are experiencing, the increasing number of annual hurricanes, the wildfires continually flaring out of control, the glaciers breaking up and melting, the species of fish dying out, the slowing down of various ocean currents, the rate of change of the climate ( for which there is no past evidence ), global temperature increases, the warming of the oceans, decreasing snow cover, increased acidification of the oceans, increased drought, increased flooding. This is all evidence backed up by multiple sources such as ice cores, tree rings, historical measurements, pollen records, geological evidence and so forth. Chemical reactions don’t need huge volumes of chemicals to begin, once the tipping point is reached it’s tickets which is why the absolute CO2 volumes are irrelevant, it’s the deltas that matter. Do luddites such as yourself get a cheap kick out of thinking that you are more insightful than anyone else because “only you” can see the “deeper meaning” and the “true facts” ? Studies have shown that conspiracy theorists are often people with deep seated insecurities who bolster their weak egos by imagining that only they can see what others can’t. They make themselves feel significant by being contrarian. You don’t need facts, you need therapy.

        • Pieter van de Venter says:

          I tend to agree with Ben Harper. What a pitiful attempt to be relevant and attract attention.

          I guess none of these people have savings and therefore no expectation of earning interest on the savings??

      • Iam Fedup says:

        Ben Harper, I noticed your support of Standard Bank. Are you an employee or someone associated with them as a PR poppie? Because you are defending the indefensible – corporate bullying.

        • Ben Harper says:

          Seems to be a standard response to opposing views. I’m not supporting Standard Bank, never used them once in my life. I will however give my opinion when I please

        • Pieter van de Venter says:

          I do not work for, do business with or own shares in Standard Bank.

          Can any of the learned people please tell me what the amount and the percentage is that Standard has loaned to dirty energy in the las 10 years. Then just to make it interesting, the same question for agriculture.

          What I want to know is, is there proof that Standard Bank is actively developing industries that “destroys” the planet, or did some attention seeker just decided Standard Bank is a bank therefore they are guilty – of something?

    • Corry Versluis says:

      As Ben Harper said “hahaha” this, and the article is nothing but virtue signalling. “All new fossil fuel stocks must remain in the ground” … What pray tell do YOU espouse replaces the vacuum for energy then? Renewables… hah, have you seen the damage mining for lithium, cobalt and other rare minerals does, under the most heinous and deplorable conditions? No. But you want YOUR life and privileges to carry on. Look around you, your work and home. The majority of things are derived from oil derivatives. The food you eat, commercial farms. Your clothes, your home, your car, phone. Everything relies on oil to one, two or three degrees of freedom.
      This, it is easy to spout “Stop Oil now!” but then be prepared for life as you know it to change drastically.

      • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

        ” …but then be prepared for life as you know it to change drastically.”

        That’s exactly what we all must do, while there is still a small possibility that we can save the Earth which we have abused, many out of ignorance, but that is an excuse that is not valid anymore.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      See, as much as I personally dislike SubStandard as a bank I say that the job of a bank is just that. To be a bank; and to make money for its investors. It is a capitalist machine, not a moral one. And it never will be a moral one. To expect it to be is frankly just stupid as it operates entirely from the capitalist imperative. Greed. Just like pretty much any business. This is why laws exist to keep capitalists honest. It is governments that we elect, and it is governments that make the laws. If we take issue with what capitalists are allowed to do, then we need to vote in a green government, which will make green laws that manage capitalism appropriately from a climate perspective. All businesses and all citizens. Without this you may as well just take the award and accept the kudos, because you will change nothing.

    • Pieter van de Venter says:

      The time that people claiming to be journalists, can claim the moral high ground or any high ground, is long gone. With the advent of the internet and any Tom, Dick or Harriet can set up a web page and claim it is a serious news organisation and with the growth of CNN/Fox News/IOL, that claim was killed.

      I wonder how the DM journalists traveled to Rosebank (maybe by petrol/diesel vehicle) before the “activists” forced their way into a building owned by Standard Bank under false pretenses. As I understand it, right of entry is still in the hands of the owner? Or am I wrong?

      Are we going to allow a few attention seekers (that call themselves activists) to disrupt the lives of the millions others as is happening ion the UK?? Very, Very selfish people.

      Why not join a group trying to find something to replace fossil fuels with and do something useful.

      I wonder how Ms Joubert reacts to load shedding?? Jump up and down with joy (less coal) or does she also swear (under her breath- of course!!) when the lights go out. Hope you find a bank that does not use electricity and where no vehicles burg petrol/diesel. Good Luck!!!!

      Stop disruption peoples lives and break/burn other people’s assets and do something useful.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Sure you would engage with the a Bank or Business legally before unprofessionally conducting journalist work against the rules of the Bank or Business. Denise Smit

  • Samuel Ginsberg says:

    You make a good argument about climate activists having no means of attending events without using fossil fuels to get there.
    The same argument could be made that the banks operate in a competitive environment and thus can’t simply pass on a big part of their business. It would have to be a multilateral decision for it to be practical and effective. Then you’d still get players like HCI investing in fossil fuels, so this is a very tricky space.
    That said, manhandling journalists is never acceptable, not from a business nor from government.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Banks have no ethics,they use your money to develop at any cost and make gazillions.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Yeah the thing is the science ISN’T clear.

    The original authors of the Kyoto protocols actually came out years later against their own science…when they realised that their own models were hopelessly flawed.

    Global warming became climate change, loving the “global warming” in CT this year. lol.

    CO2 is now 300PPM, it has peaked at 900PPM and during that time dinosaurs and our mammalian ancestors were very happy… that period can arguably be seen as one of the “healthiest” periods of bio-diversity and carrying capacity, thus the monstrous creatures which evolved.

    FACT is, the micro-plastics will kill us all way before climate change, if that is even a thing.

    The climate change Tzars travel to Davos in private jets… there’s your glaringly obvious answer… it’s all a load of BS… if they believed their own script then it would be held via zoom.

    FACT is… not a single prediction has played out. The system is just too complex.

    FACT is… fossil fuels give us medicines, materials, energy and most important of all FERTILISER!!! Want to stop using fossil fuels? Well then peeps, stop breeding, stop eating, stay at home and wait to die. Those wind turbines? Made from fossil fuels… those solar panels? made from fossil fuels…. that computer you are itching to type your comment on… made and powered by fossil fuels… that woke vegan-meat substitute sarmie you had for lunch? Grown with and transported by fossil fuels.

    • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

      Matthew, you are saying the system is too complex.

      Actually, it is a huge under-statement!

      Our maths are extremely limited,
      as we can, for example,
      only describe mathematically TWO bodies spinning,
      on their own axis and around each other.

      No maths can describe the exact movement of three bodies or more!!!!,
      because there are too many variables, for starters.

      The same goes for predictions in the eco-system,
      as there are thousands of variables.

      All these predictions are the fruit of
      the imaginations of dooms-day-scientists,
      and will be forgotten in a couple of years.

      Then they will say, you see,
      it worked!!,
      because we are still here!

    • Ben Harper says:

      Thank you.

      Are you aware of the taxes the IMF are getting ready to drop on the world? Starting with 33% tax on fuels in 2030 and going up to 75% tax on fuels by 2040

  • Brian Doyle says:

    A well written article and response to Standard Bank’s high handed action. The bank should be ashamed of their personnel’s action and in turn should take action against them

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    I’m not sure I want to be involved in funding theatrical climate activism rather than hard journalism. A little disappointed in the Mavericks apparent active participation in the event and have the strong sense that it was coordinated with the protestors.

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    Leonie, don’t be a drama queen:

    “slow the escalating violence of climate collapse”

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    Please don’t be a drama queen:

    “slow the escalating violence of climate collapse”

  • mjhauptstellenbosch says:

    “slow the escalating violence of climate collapse”

    Care to tell us more about the above statement please?

  • Agf Agf says:

    I suppose the author also agrees with the Just Stop Oil nutters in the UK. What a childish reaction to the incident. Standard Bank was perfectly entitled to react the way they did to a trespasser on their property.

    • Ben Harper says:

      They’re pretty much the same group, Just Stop Oil is an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion, in fact the leader of Just Stop Oil was booted out of Extinction Rebellion because he was just plain crazy

  • Iam Fedup says:

    Good on you Leoni, and I, together with millions of South Africans, am right behind you. I know it’s been said many times, but “evil triumphs when good men – and women – stay silent. What have Standard Wank got to hide?

  • Morgan Morris says:

    Unlike others who comment here, I happen to think that climate change is real. And that corporates are part of the problem. No argument there. Also, I happen to love the work done by ‘Daily Maverick’ in South Africa. But are you saying that when first participated in the awards, in whose title the bank’s name is front and centre, that somehow you thought that Standard Bank is the only corporate or, for that matter, bank in the world that doesn’t fund shady or ecologically worrying activities? Really? Really? And that you’re now all going to take your bank accounts elsewhere because those other banks surely don’t have fossil fuel on their hands? And you’re only going to participate in awards funded by spotless corporate sponsors who don’t do anything that might offend someone? Come on, DM, you’re better and smarter than that.

    • Grenville Wilson says:

      Hear hear!

    • James Reeler says:

      Actually, I think Leonie’s point was rather that there are no options to bank with spotlessly clean banks. They are all involved in the funding of fossil fuels, and so the criticism that is frequently levelled against any activist that they benefit from the system that they are critiquing is unavoidable. To go live in a mud hut and eat grubs may indeed be how one opts out of the system but it isn’t a useful way to change a system that is broken. One has to engage with the system, highlight the problems and the ways in which they can be addressed, and push back hard against the vested interests that are embedded. Taking the example of apartheid, it wasn’t leaving to other countries to avoid the system that overturned it – it was concerted struggle against it.

      Given that this is the case, using Standard Bank’s award as a platform to critique their actions is entirely viable and a smart approach. The point is that Standard Bank has specifically selected one of Leonie’s articles about climate change as important, they’re nailing their colours to the mast. But unlike individuals, banks *do* have significant capacity to change the system – to limit fossil fuel investments and focus on alternatives. So Leonie’s refusal to accept the award both raises the issue of the bank’s greenwashing into the public eye, and gives it an opportunity to try and change. That it hasn’t even bothered to respond to the climate change issue is telling.

  • For a change I fully support the Standard Bank iniciatives against the climate hysteria and baseless, politically biased, false climate narrative

    • Viv Hart says:

      So many deniers out there, I bet they had lots to say about Greta Thunberg as well. Why can’t you spell ‘initiatives’ properly? A most thought-provoking article, thank you DM.

      • Ben Harper says:

        Greta Thunberg is an autistic child that was abused by her activist parents. Her condition makes her absolutely dread and fear for her life when she is told something will kill her – this is what her parents told her would happen to her and hence the appearance of genuine fear from her. The fact her parents have never been charged with child abuse says a lot about these activists and the political control they wield

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Once again a well written one sided piece of Drivel, I am extremely disappointed in DM for continuing to hammer away at SB without giving them a fair chance to air their side of the story. This line of journalism is making me question my commitment to paying my monthly subscription. The only worthwhile part of DM is the mini crossword.

  • says:

    I don’t think this article addresses the inequities of the distribution of fossil fuel damage to the environment over the past 100 years to so. The industrialised West has created the climate problem, and from it’s position of relative comfort now expects the developing world to forego the use of fossil fuels to uplift it’s people’s. Let’s get some perspective on this, and not blindly toe the green agenda line.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      When you get hit by a car …it really makes no difference who’s fault it was.

      So let’s focus on where we want to be and stop driveling on about history – because we can’t change it.

    • Pieter van de Venter says:

      You are maybe correct. That does not absolve the residents of Africa from the millions of fires stoked by manure, wood, etc from their responsibility. This continent of Africa (that makes up something like 20% of the population) cannot continue to blame everybody else but themselves. There were only slave traders from Europe and no chiefs that provided the commodity (slaves) to harbours, it is only the industrial world that is guilty of pollution, the high debt rate and corruption is Africa is the ex-colonial powers fault – never, never the fault of an African.

      They say the first sign of adulthood, is you can acknowledge your own guilt.

  • Almost smart people. Argue and complain instead of doing something about anything. Don’t complain about the work you didn’t put in. Target Eskom, Govt. Something useful.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    I love this! I am also a Standard Bank customer but the pipeline deal is news to me. If and when you find the “green” bank you are looking for please shout it from the rooftops. It might be a difficult find though…

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Banking is based on lending money to assist in development and growth in an economy.
    The method used is to ensure the money loaned (which belongs to their investors) is secured and will work to provide profit to them and the bank.
    Under these conditions, social needs are a luxury, which cannot always be considered.
    Maybe, the ultimate responsibility lies not with the bank, but rather with its investors/depositors?
    This does not mean I support the draconian, illegal(?) action taken last week against the journalist. Could such action influence concserned depositors?

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