Barclays Africa hit by protesters demanding apartheid-era money

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Johannesburg - Barclays Africa Group [JSE:BGA] was targeted by protesters who entered an Absa branch on Thursday and demanded the bank pay back money from a bailout provided to a company it bought before the end of apartheid.

Demonstrators linked to the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) gathered outside the branch in Durban, Johannesburg-based Barclays Africa said in an emailed response to questions. Police ensured customers and staff were protected during the incident, it said.

The protests come after the leaking of a draft report compiled by the public protector that said Barclays Africa, which traded as Absa then, may have unduly benefited from state support when it bought Bankorp in 1992. A panel appointed by former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni found in 2002 that Absa’s shareholders didn’t derive undue benefit from the central bank’s intervention, and said restitution shouldn’t be pursued.

“Our stance remains that Absa doesn’t owe the government money,” the bank said. “We settled our obligations in October 1995 and the public protector’s draft report contains legal and factual inaccuracies.”

Shares drop

Barclays Africa reversed earlier gains to trade 1.22% lower at R163.04 as of 07:28 on the JSE. The stock has declined 2.2% this year, the biggest drop in the six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index. 

The youth league bused hundreds of supporters from around KwaZulu-Natal province to join the protest outside the branch in the Durban central business district as part of a national call for action against Absa. Some gained entry into the branch, while others danced and sang in the street, clad in yellow ANC T-shirts decorated with President Jacob Zuma’s face.

Barclays Africa accepted a memorandum from the protesters, with the situation now under control, the company said.

Zuma has questioned why South Africa’s largest banks decided to shut the accounts of companies related to the Gupta family, who have been accused of using their friendship with the president and their business ties with one of his sons to influence cabinet appointments.

Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing. The lenders have said that they never acted in concert and in separate statements have said that continuing to do business with the Guptas risked hurting their reputations.

Another political group, Black First Land First, said in a tweet it wanted “rolling mass action to force Absa to pay back the money.” In another tweet, the organisation said that once it’s “done with Absa”, it will target First National bank, which is a unit of FirstRand, Africa’s largest lender by value. It is calling for a national picket to be held on Saturday in what the organisation said will be the first of many actions against Absa.

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