A group of angry bank clients are preparing to march to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) offices to protest against the commission stopping their investigation into alleged discrimination by the bank against black clients.
The commission’s chairperson, Professor Bongani Majola, however, said that the investigation was still ongoing but the matter was almost at completion.
In April 2019, the Equality Court ruled in favour of First National Bank (FNB) in a case relating to allegations of giving white clients favourable interest rates on home loans at the expense of black clients.
The black clients, who were home loan clients of the now-defunct Saambou Bank, were accusing FNB of charging black homeowners higher interest rates than their white counterparts.
Private financial consultant Emerald van Zyl, who brought the matter to the Equality Court, told The Star that he had assisted thousands of clients regarding interest rates against black mortgage and vehicle finance clients.
“I’ve tweeted about this numerous times, but they charge black people 18-19% interest, while they charge white people 8-10% interest,” he said.
After the case was dismissed by the Equality Court, Van Zyl approached the SAHRC to deliberate on the matter and submitted proof of the alleged discrimination.
However, Van Zyl and the complainants said the investigation was stopped and the complainants would march to the SAHRC head offices in Braamfontein to call for the investigation to be prioritised.
Majola confirmed that the matter was received by the commission and that a researcher was flown to Cape Town to speak to Van Zyl.
SAHRC chief executive advocate Tseliso Thipanyane said the investigator came back to the commission and said there wasn’t a clear case for Van Zyl’s complaint.
“He said to us that there wasn’t no (sic) clear case for Mr van Zyl, and he was told of this. However, we’ll continue with a thorough investigation to see whether there are any valid concerns around discrimination in the banking sector,” he said.
Thipanyane said the first part of the report was done and that the researcher was working on the second part, which was almost complete.
FNB said on Tuesday that it considered the matter closed.
“FNB have always maintained that the callous use of racial allegations is irresponsible and unacceptable. There has never been any evidence to suggest that race played any role in Saambou’s determination of interest rates for its customers,” the bank said.
It added that cases related to these allegations had been dismissed by various courts since 2013, including the Supreme Court of Appeal.
“The allegations were first dismissed in 2013 by the North Gauteng High Court, which found that after all the evidence had been led and all witnesses cross-examined, the claim that Saambou charged black people higher interest rates than white people was completely unfounded’,” FNB said.
A complainant, Frans Mokomana, told The Star that the march was still in the planning stages and a date had not yet been set.
Mokomana said that when he brought his home in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga in 1996, the repo rate was around 1%. But in 1998, the repo rate was increased to 4%.
“It was so expensive that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to afford it and I nearly sold the house, but I decided to stay,” he said.
Mokomana said he and the other complainants felt that the commission was not taking their plight seriously.
“We were paying extra money for those insurances, but now I’ve finished paying for this house and nothing has happened. Don’t I deserve the extra money that I was paying to them because nothing has happened to my house?” he asked.