Cosatu demands Absa pay back the money

Johannesburg - Hundreds of Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) members marched to Absa head office in Johannesburg on Thursday to hand over a memorandum of demands, calling for the bank to repay bailout money paid to Bankorp by the Reserve Bank during apartheid.

Cosatu said the bank has been involved in a number of controversial activities that are "detrimental to the wellbeing of the country's economy".

The Competition Commission in February referred a case of collusion to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution against 17 banks including Absa, Standard Bank and Investec.

The commission said it found that the respondents had a general agreement to collude on prices in relation to currency trading involving US dollar/rand currency pair.

Cosatu's Gauteng provincial chairperson Vusi Monyela said they had strategically chosen to march to Absa because the bank did not only collude, but also benefited from loans that belonged to South Africans.

Series of bailouts

"We think that the country has been robbed of its resources during that time and Absa must take responsibility and pay it back. When the collusion case emerged, it added to the damage that Absa has already done," said Monyela.

Between 1985 and 1993, the apartheid government provided Bankorp with a series of bailouts, through the Reserve Bank, to offset loans that threatened the Bankorp's survival. Absa took over Bankorp in 1992.

Monyela said they will be going to other banks implicated in the collusion in the near future but they felt the need to start with Absa because of its involvement in both collusion and the bailouts.

"We will be going to other banks, by the way. We will be going to the stock exchange and to everybody who has made the economy and the working class bleed. This is the beginning of the struggle to recoup what is owed to the working class and the poor by these big banks," said Monyela.

In an earlier statement, Cosatu said it believed that Absa symbolised everything wrong with the structure of this country's economy.

"They are yet to pay back the full amount plus interests of the bailouts provided to Bankorp by the Reserve Bank from 1985 to 1992," read the statement.

"Absa is a symbol of all those who inherited privilege and ill-gotten gains of the past. This is the corruption that has left the country with no resources to fund free education," Cosatu said.

Cosatu's demands included the call for a full pay-out of the loans with interest and an inquiry into the executive members of the big banks involved in the collusion case.

Cosatu has given them 48 hours to respond.

Monyela said the march was a success. The march followed a shop steward council meeting that was held at the Johannesburg City Hall that met to discuss the upcoming campaigns and the decisions by the federation.

They have made a call to all workers to join May Day celebrations on May 1.

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