This morning (11 September 2017), Black First Land First (BLF) marched to the FNB Headquarters in Johannesburg to handover a memorandum of demands, regarding the dismissal of four of its employees. Below is an interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with Ms Zanele Lwana, BLF Deputy President.
Interviewer: I understand that BLF marched to the FNB building this morning. Please could your provide some context.
Zanele Lwana: As you would know, on the 30th of August, we had marched to the Headquarters of the First National Bank. This was as a result of the four dismissed workers, who are black, being fired as a result of raising transformation within the bank, and commenting on the political landscape of the country, as a whole. We had requested for an urgent meeting with the CEO of FNB, and at that time he had not responded. And, even when we arrived at the Headquarters previously, he was not there. He did not acknowledge receipt of the letter that we wrote to him, and w were given junior employees from the bank who had no idea what we were trying to do, in terms of finding a solution in dealing with the case of racism. We then decided to march again today, to FNB to submit a memorandum of demands to the bank, because before today, a few days ago, we got correspondence from the CEO of the bank, saying that the matter is resolved therefore, we do not need to be involved, even as the Black First Land first Movement.
We submitted a memorandum of demands: The first demand is for these four workers who were dismissed, to be reinstated or to be given serious compensation, and for the bank to have a clear policy on how they deal with racism. And, FNB also needs to show us that, when they employ someone to be the CEO of the bank, that that person can be a politician as well. Because as we know, the CEO is very vocal on regime change, on calling for the President to step down, and also speaking badly of State-Owned Enterprises, today, such as the South African Airways, with the hope that these institutions will be privatised and again white monopoly capital will be the first beneficiary of such an arrangement.
Also, our key demand was for government to withdraw any account that they have with FNB. If FNB does not give a positive response to BLF within seven days, we are going to call for a national shutdown of the bank, and we are going to call for a boycott of this bank, which is clearly involved in an agenda of regime change in the country, and silencing anyone that is not pro-status quo in South Africa.
In the correspondence with BLF, FNB stated that the matter had been resolved. Did the bank state how the matter had been addressed, and resolved?
The First National Bank said that the case is resolved, and has been closed and therefore the matter is not going to be discussed further. And, in their correspondence to us, they do not show any seriousness in how they deal with black people – this was also shown by the CEO, knowing that we were coming today, and deciding not to avail himself, instead there is heavy police presence, heavy private security presence; instead of having a civil, decent dialogue with a black radical movement on how an issue of racism should be dealt with, they are resorting to tactics of violence to try to intimidate our movement, and our members, as well.
What was the overall outcome of the march, today?
I was not in the march today, and I have not received conclusive feedback. But, I do know that we did go to the march, and a memorandum of demands was read out and submitted to any senior employee from the First National Bank.
In your opinion, what is BLF’s role in terms of transformation at FNB?
The issue is very simple. We say, as the Black First Land First movement, that South Africa is first and foremost a black country, and that is why we also support the call for radical transformation of the economy, because 77% of the economy as we know it, today, is in the hands of white people. Basically, as black people, we are still marginalised from owning the means of production in this country, and we know that the Executives of First National Bank are 100% white; and we are saying that this is uncalled for. That is why we want FNB to put it into writing, in black and white, in terms of what their agenda on transformation is. As well as their policies on racism, so that we can deal with these matters in a very explicit and civil matter, and reiterates again, that we are not going to tolerate any racism in the country, whether it is FNB, or any arm of white monopoly capital. This case of racism, and the black workers who have been dismissed for raising matters of transformation, shows how FNB, as a institution, is being used as a political arm to push for a regime change agenda and silence any views that do not fall into the trap of attacking the president of the country, or whoever is advocating for the radical transformation of the economy.
FNB did not acknowledge previous correspondences from BLF. What does BLF anticipate, should FNB not respond within seven days?
Throughout our efforts in trying to communicate, and sit down with the bank, to try and see what is the best solution to this case of clear unfair dismissal, and racism, in that institution called FNB. The CEO has total disregard for BLF, is dismissive, and is undermining. It shows the manner in which they deal with all black people, in general in this country. It is not the first case where FNB is placed at the centre, for being in the wrong in terms of how they deal with black people. It is an ongoing case now, that First National Bank, in terms of bonds and home loans, has been charging exorbitant interest rates to black clients, as compared to white clients. So, if FNB continues not to take us seriously as a movement, after seven days, if we do not have a positive response from FNB, we are going to shut down FNB; not only in Johannesburg, but at branches all over the country. We are going to continue with our call for the government to end all business accounts it has with the bank, and sadly, we are going to call for a boycott to mobilise our people to terminate their accounts with the bank, until FNB is ready to tackle this issue – if not, we are forced to take these actions to show that we are serious.
This Saturday, on the 9th of September, we had a seminar as Black First Land First, which forms part of a series of seminars called “Blacks in Dialogue”. We were discussing the call for a black bank; because institutions like FNB, can be racist to black people, can do all kinds of things to take money from black people without black people gaining anything – instead we become indebted for the rest of our lives. So, we are going to strengthen our call, and engage any relevant stakeholders, in calling for a black bank in South Africa. Currently, we do not have a choice in who we want to bank with, because all sectors of the economy are monopolised by white business people in this country. So, we are going to re-emphasise and strengthen our call, calling for a black bank – owned by black people, and for the interest of black people.
We want to put it on record that the month of September, is a month that we use as the black consciousness movement, to commemorate the life of Steve Bantu Biko. Because, it is Steve Bantu Biko, and his teachings of black consciousness, that teaches and inspires us to fight racists in this country, and to fight institutions such as the First National Bank. If FNB continues not to take BLF seriously; they must ask ABSA how we deal with racist bank institutions in this country. We are just warming up; this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if they continue to resist, and not listen to our demands, while they continue to be racist to our people and exploit are people, then we are forced to strengthen and intensify our actions against them.