Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala wrote this message to his staff in an internal memo in 2016:

Last year ended with great tumult in our political economy and that tumult continues to affect the markets. Standard Bank will continue to play its part in addressing all the issues in our political economy that reduce South Africa’s competitiveness and slow inclusive growth.

This year, however, has begun with intense controversy around racism, redress and free speech. While touching on some political economy issues, this letter focuses on the racism controversy.

It is my hope that all these events have jolted us all onto a new and better path. Let us walk that path together.

I am writing this to you as a black South African. This is an unashamedly personal message with all the history and emotion that comes with that. But I am also writing it as a citizen of the world and as your Chief Executive – as someone who has the honour to lead Standard Bank, a good corporate citizen of South Africa that has become a major multinational corporation.

The events of the past few days have reminded us that South Africa is still a deeply wounded country. South Africa has made great progress since 1994, but the damage caused by centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid has not been eradicated in twenty-two years.

Most black South Africans — and most Africans in particular — remain severely disadvantaged compared to white South Africans. 4% of adult Africans have a tertiary qualification; 25% of white South Africans do. Throughout the South African economy, 70% of top managers and 59% of senior managers are white. The unemployment rate among Africans is 28.8%; among white people it is 5.9%. 61% of white South Africans live in households that spend more than R10 000 a month; only 8% of Africans can spend that much. 16% of Africans live in extreme poverty and regularly suffer hunger; 99.9% of white South Africans are better off than that.

Even those of us who have become prosperous and successful still bear the painful scars of apartheid in our memories. And we still see its enduring damage every day in the lives of our families and our friends.

As I wrote in The Standard in June 2015, all Standard Bankers — indeed, all South Africans — have a legal and moral duty to work hard to promote the transformation of South Africa.

Transformation is not a choice. We are committed to transformation by the aspirations and values expressed in our Constitution; by the legal force of its equality clause; and in terms of precisely detailed legislation including the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act, the Employment Equity Act and the Labour Relations Act.

We are further committed to transformation by our own group Purpose and Values. We cannot honestly claim that ‘Africa is our home, we drive her growth’ unless we are committed to transformation in South Africa. A South Africa crippled by unfairness and inequality cannot take its rightful place in the African family of nations.

Furthermore, transformation is a commercial imperative for the Group. South Africa’s extremely high level of inequality creates grave risks to the quality of our politics, to the strength of our institutions and to the stability of our society. These worsen South Africa’s business environment and our country risk ratings which, in turn, damage our prospects for faster and more inclusive growth in South Africa and throughout the continent.

Therefore, all of us at Standard Bank — and, indeed, all South Africans — must continue to work hard to transform our economy and our society. Our Constitution binds us to do this; our South African patriotism and our commitment to Africa demand it; and our interest in the profitability of our group and in the well-being of our fellow South Africans, our friends and families compels it.

Transformation absolutely does not mean that there is no place for white staff or that white South Africans cannot expect to enjoy the rewards due to hard work and to skill. What it means is that all of us — black and white — must do everything we can to create a demographically normal society in which everyone has a fair opportunity to succeed. To build this better world for future generations of South Africans, a little patience and a degree of sacrifice is required from all of us. This is not an extraordinary burden. Mature and responsible people understand that careful future planning and self-restraint are required everywhere and at all times.

At Standard Bank, we are the inheritors of a proud record of patient stewardship and investment that has substantially promoted economic development and transformation. We are privileged to have the will and the capacity to continue to use the immense power of finance to make South Africa and our continent a better place.

Transformation, then, is about creating a much fairer and more sustainable distribution of resources and opportunities. But, as we have just been painfully reminded, it is also about the eradication of racism from our society — both because racism is a practical barrier to transformation and because racism is deeply wrong in itself.

Racism is the denial of full humanity and of human dignity to any person or group of people on the grounds of their physical appearance or ethnicity. It is often expressed in false, thoughtless and belittling generalisations: ‘All blacks are….’ or ‘Every white thinks that….’ However, it can also be more subtle, working through glances and hints and unspoken assumptions.

As our history teaches us, racism can lead directly to systematic cruelty and appalling violence. Open or subtle, racism hurts its victims terribly, weakens the fabric of society, poisons politics and erodes the trust and the optimism on which economic growth depends.

Anyone of any ethnicity — African, Chinese, Coloured, Indian, White, etc. — can be a victim of racism. Let me be clear: Racism against anyone is always totally unacceptable and inexcusable. The same is true of sexism and of prejudice and discrimination on grounds such as religion, sexual orientation or disability.

However, given South Africa’s history, it is inevitable that black South Africans are particularly vulnerable to the cruel thoughtlessness of racism. And given our history, we are also particularly sensitive to it. Frankly, we have every right to be very sensitive to racism. And we have an even stronger right not to be subjected to it.

So again, by way of example, the cumulative effect of slights, of exclusions and of growing up in a squalid township — all these well up with inexorable force in response to present-day instances of racism, no matter how seemingly trivial. Many ‘jokes’ are not jokes to me — beneath their surface lurks what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called an inarticulate major premise: a premise of black inferiority.

Standard Bank does not tolerate racism in any form, no matter how ‘casual’ or ‘trivial.’ As expressed in Standard Bank’s Value of Respecting Each Other: ‘We have the highest regard for the dignity of all people. We respect each other and what Standard Bank stands for.’

Racism does not operate in a vacuum. Racist opinions are usually weapons in a struggle for resources. Some white people, for instance, appear — despite the provisions of our Constitution and our laws — to be tempted to argue that poor black people are not entitled to various goods because they are ‘dirty’ or because they have a ‘victim mentality.’ Some black people seem to think — despite the values and principles stated in our Constitution — that white people are not entitled to be full citizens because they are ‘all racists’.

As can be seen from these examples, ‘entitled’ is often a key word in racist thinking. The ordinary dictionary definition of ‘entitled’ includes the idea that someone has a legitimate expectation – for instance, an expectation of access to a decent education or to redress for past wrongs. Of course, ‘entitled’ can also be used in a pejorative sense meaning that someone falsely thinks they’re entitled to privileges they haven’t earned or don’t deserve.

But as the Aristotelean principles of rectificatory and distributive justice proclaim, and as our Constitution and our laws make crystal-clear, Black South Africans are in fact fully entitled to a decent quality of life and to redress for apartheid. To suggest that this means that they are ‘entitled’ in the negative sense is simply wrong and often amounts to racism.

What the last few days have taught us, I believe, is that we now need a new phase of open and serious dialogue about race and racism in South Africa. Over the weeks to come, I will be working together with Exco, Manco and all of you, my colleagues here at Standard Bank, and in conversations in organised business, to ensure that business people enter this dialogue with the utmost thoughtfulness and willingness to listen.

What I have said about inequality applies equally to racism. This new dialogue is a moral imperative, but it is also a commercial one.

Both our immediate and our long-term economic performance depend on how fully we respect and live by our Constitution, on the strength of our institutions, on our level of country risk, on our international competitiveness, and on the quality of our business environment.

We have great strengths — immense resources, world-class companies and great infrastructure (some of which is in urgent need of further development) and highly productive and skilled workers. However, each of these sources of competitive advantage is badly eroded by incomplete transformation and by racism.

Speaking as a banker, therefore, we need this dialogue because a large part of our business is risk management and because country risk directly affects the cost of capital. We need this dialogue so that we can get on with the business of making South Africa, of serving South Africa’s financial needs and supporting its growth and development. I expect all of us in the Standard Bank Group to grapple with these issues in a respectful and dignified way so as to make Standard Bank and South Africa better places for all of us, regardless of our race, our gender, our culture or our identity.

These events also require us to review our transformation journey and some of the Group’s policies, formal procedures and informal ways of doing things — especially those that promote or hinder transformation, such as hiring and procurement policies, lending practices, and how we help to normalise and modernise the South African marketplace.

This need for re-examination has arisen at a good time, as we are currently communicating the refreshed strategy and thinking through the changes necessary to implement it. Executives will be providing more detail as appropriate in due course. Two things are already very clear: All of us have the responsibility to guard and strengthen the Group’s reputation; and all of us must be guided by our Values and Principles as we do so.

A word on free speech: Citizens of South Africa have the right to freedom of expression, but this right is not absolute. Under our Constitution, advocacy of racial hatred is not protected speech; and freedom of speech is not more important than the right to dignity. The wise framers of our Constitution have given us complete freedom of civilised political dialogue and of artistic expression. But we cannot say anything we like to hurt or belittle others and not expect consequences. I admonish all of us not to infringe on the linguistic, religious and cultural rights of others. When we differ — which we will — we must always remain respectful.

Finally, I urge all of us at Standard Bank to remain inspired by and committed to the noble and prayerful words of the Preamble to our Constitution: ‘We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who have suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore… adopt this Constitution… to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.’

I believe, more than ever, that our individual futures depend on our collective future. Let this be a moment for South Africans to find each other again and to re-dedicate ourselves to building a non-racial and democratic South Africa which is globally competitive, and in which all citizens can enjoy prosperity in a normal society.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.


  1. As much as I agree with what is said, it brings back the old saying “Change starts at home”. I firmly believe that if this country wants to change and grow as a unity the race card needs to stop being utilized by any and every political group. They use it as a crutch thus creating the illusion of racism where it is not. Now I am not saying racism does not exist, but it is used as a scape in times where it comes down to morals over anything else. Especially in cases where there IS white on black/black on white violence. Any ethnic group is vulnerable to violance, as well as able to conduct violence, but spinning it into a race war when it was, for example, self defence (which as we know in this country is needed more and more each day due to how violent our crimes are becoming). One needs to take a step back and view it as an outsider perhaps, how would you feel, moving into a country torn by colour because “He/she” said it was down to racism. This is what will make our break our country, which is fast declining to junk status which will leave us at breaking point. A change needs to happen fast.

  2. …an intersting, insightful read: the opinion of another Black African I admire. I could serve a President like this any day!!

    The black man’s burden
    Vince Musewe
    09 January 2014

    Vince Musewe says that Africa is not learning from the past…

    The Black Man’s Burden
    The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the same political structures that we have blindly adopted since 1950’s.
    Reading Martin Merendith’s book – “State of Africa”, has shocked me to appreciate that the pattern and results of black rule has hardly changed from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
    We are such fools indeed, we never learn.
    Black governments took over political power motivated by the passion to create more equitable and developed societies. Liberation struggle leaders came into power while promising to correct the wrongs of the past and to fight poverty and discrimination; that was their ticket to state house.
    It worked to get them there, but it seems that, as soon as they did, they forgot why they were there and, more importantly, who had helped them to get there. Virtually all of our leaders behaved in a similar manner once they moved into state house; they became arrogant and selfish in pursuit of personal wealth. Liberation ideals became an inconvenient truth while those who fought with them were neglected.
    Once they took over, and after getting used to the trappings of power, they all started to decimate their economies, starting with agriculture and then industry under the guise of black economic emancipation.
    Political and business elites emerged overnight and had unfettered access to huge government contracts. While doing that, the country’s debts soared and became unmanageable; food shortages, poverty and unemployment increased while their currencies became worthless. Zimbabwe has not been spared from this burden.
    Country after country, we see that all African leaders left their countries worse off. It as if they all came from the same mother with one purpose in mind; to loot as much as possible.
    They all oppressed their own people, justifying one party state mentality, while they lived like kings. Black politicians and the elite acquired unimaginable personal wealth and abused state resources to entrench their interests. They deliberately stifled the media and any dissenting voices. They surrounded themselves with family and praise singers in an orgy of primitive accumulation. They ruled by instilling fear and not through earning respect. They centralized power while ensuring their safety through patronage, corruption and if necessary assassinations of those seen as threats.
    Viable state enterprises established during colonialism became their playground to reward cronies, party officials including the army. As a result, the state enterprises became inefficient, unproductive while running huge public debts. Large infrastructure projects which were unsustainable were launched for the wrong reasons and were soon abandoned. It was more about prestige than economic development. Africa’s bloated bureaucracies still exist today in most of Africa; their role being to provide jobs, contracts and favours to kinsmen and political supporters.
    From Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe, they all blamed imperialism as the root of all evil. They became insular and most of them were eventually ousted from office by their own followers who aspired to wealth and power as their leaders had once done.
    The interesting fact is that almost all of these past leaders died broken man, lonely and melancholic; the fruits of their lives were similar and brutal.
    Now, when someone like Julius Malema stands up and threatens to nationalise and do exactly what has failed in Africa since 1951 and gets applauded from the masses, it shows the sheer lack of the understanding and appreciation of history. African leaders created poverty and devastated the productive assets of their economies under the banner of nationalisation and empowerment of the masses.
    The challenge for us is to break this pattern which, if left alone to persist will create the same results-poverty, hunger, patronage, waste and dictatorships.
    It is important that we do all we can to prevent the emergence of personality cults, dictatorships and abuse of power. This means we must avoid political parties that are structured or operate in such a manner because they merely transfer their existing power relations into government structures once elected.
    Political parties reward loyalty and popularity among other despicable behaviours, but these qualities do not result in good leadership. They tend to reward everything besides integrity and good leadership. These are then the very people we elect into office; no wonder why Africa is still so backward.
    The idea of a one party state is totally unacceptable. Funny enough, all of Africa fell into the myth that having a singular political entity is better than multiple parties. This contributed to the wide spread failure of politics to serve the needs of citizens. One party state mentality is bad for democracy and accountability.
    Unfortunately Africa is not learning from the past; our government structures and how we elect leaders continue to produce the same terrible results. The black man’s burden continues to be his thirst for power and inclination towards primitive wealth accumulation. Add superstition and witchcraft to this then you have the typical African leader; self-centred, ruthless, uncaring and fearful of change.
    The problems we face in Africa can never be solved using the political structures that we have blindly adopted from developed countries.
    Our political parties have failed to drive the inclusive development agenda throughout Africa, even in cases where the resources are in abundance.
    In my opinion, it is necessary that we first change the structure of political parties and what they stand for before we can see different results.
    The people come first!
    Vince Musewe is an economist based in Harare and you may contact him on

    And one last thought, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, but she didn’t trash the bus…she’s an unforgettable, admirable, respected example to all.

  3. This meesage from Our CEO was sent as an internal communication to all Standard Bank staff and was not meant for external distribution. Whoever sent this to the media is not living the Standard Bank values proudly. Its a true shame that Our values were compromised for fame.

  4. No need for a long comment but Sim, as a banker, should have pointed out that nepotism, corruption, crime and moral degeneration are destroying our chances of overcoming the evils of our difficult past.

  5. Be careful with all this black-white rhetoric. The TRANSFORMED government is messing up this whole country, rather work together to progress.
    One can’t expect to be successful if you immediately transform by putting less capable people (solely through race) in high positions as it puts the entire organisation at risk.

  6. I do not think that he was attempting to be comprehensive. He was laying the groundwork or the fundamental rules to open a dialogue about racism and its impact on Standard Bank and the country. He was attempting to steer the dialogue away from hateful rhetoric and blame games. He was most definitely not setting the agenda of the dialogue but the tone. Therefore, he was not expressing opinions on what transformation would look like, or whether nepotism, etc would hinder this in any way or to what end. Just setting the tone. He showed great leadership and consideration by setting the tone for dialogue in his organisation in this manner. He should be commended, not criticized for whta he has in fact opened up here.

  7. I can’t argue with the message, Racism or any sort of discrimination is wrong. We all have preconceived ideas about other people whether it be based on race, age, gender etc and that is how we are programmed but what we do with those preconceptions is what defines us. Talking down to someone because they are black or a woman or old is wrong. Talking about white privilege like it is an all encompassing pass card that white people get at birth is wrong. I took a student loan to get my studies under my belt and paid them off and have been rejected from jobs because of affirmative action, is this frustrating? Yes but I can’t allow that to cloud my judgement of the black co-worker who has got their on his own steam and is a competent great person. Time to stop allowing the extremists in our society to create racial tension and time to work together. On a side note, I do find it slightly ironic that a man who earns 50 times the average Standard Bank employee is talking about economic equality but I appreciate the message. Equality starts at the ground roots, there is no short cuts. First and foremost you need a economy which can support those who do not have anything and then you can provide the education and conditions required to stop the poverty cycle. That is the reality, there is no other way.

  8. Strange that a seemingly educated man Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala misses two vital points in his argument! :

    Firstly: The population of SA in 1910 was +- 6 million people, about 1.1 million white and about 4.5 million black and then others making up the rest.
    However, not 100yrs later, the population of whites has grown to +-4.5 million and blacks to +- 43.5 million.
    This is about a 39 million increase in blacks in last 100yrs, or about 920% increase!!
    So now tell me Mr clever man from Standard Bank, where are 39 million extra jobs going to be coming from ???

    Do you even think that the SA economy has even 30 million jobs available ?? Nope, it’s even less than 20 million jobs!! only about 15.1 million jobs according to stats SA 2014

    So bottom line is that black South African population have grown too fast for the available job market!
    And whose fault is that?

    Secondly: How is it possible for this 920% growth to take place in a population which you call impoverished, living in squalor, “extreme poverty and regularly suffer hunger” etc..etc.. How is possible to buy food if you do not have a job, or support and feed your ever growing family if you no disposable income?
    How can your still have more children if you do not have food a job.

    Surely if you have 1 or 2 children you have more disposable income and can send them to school or university…..
    But if you have 5 or 6 children, then how do you do educate them?? Who’s fault is that ??

    And then again, who’s fault is this when there are only so many jobs to go around, only so much money which can be earned in the SA economy??

    Even if ALL white’s jobs were taken over by blacks, there would still be on 3 million fewer blacks employed of the 39 million additional in last 100yrs.

    It’s time for you to open the eyes of the people at Standard Bank to the real truth and not have a one -sided story. !!

  9. Andre; you forget that in those 1900s, what happened to the land in South Africa with regards to black people; you forget how the subsequent British and Dutch governments denied black people opportunity and development of their skills simply because of colour; you don’t mention how the Khoisan people were humiliated and disposed of their land; you don’t mention that apartheid made sure that You (yourself) was educated on a state budget that is five times that used to provide for Me. That was theft of public funds to fuel inequality from which you even benefit wherever you are today!!! So stop insinuating that black people are suffering because they have many children and white people deserve where they are since they have fewer children. South Africa would have a better economy if it was not Mismanaged by the previous governments who were in all respects RACIST. Racism was not just learned by ordinary people- it was promoted by governments of the past and all other State and related institutions such as certain churches etc. we all have the duty to educate our children that to be races is equal to being barbaric and monkey-like. To me those people calling us black people monkeys are the worst Mikey’s themselves who will die having missed the freedom of being in this country. Shame!!!

  10. Very interesting article with lots of valid arguments. I do however believe that change starts at home ; like previously mentioned. People are frustrated due to bad service; poor delivery and increased prices. So mr Sim lead by example and start with your own company. Standard banks service has really become insanely bad; this year alone your bank for which we pay high bank costs have messed up my internet banking; let unautherized bank transactions go of ; even prestige banking which i pay for; could not be reached ; as the prestige banker left without letting me know. Recently the response we got from standard bank on fraudulant debit orders going of on a bussiness acount was; we can reverse the amount but the debit order can not be stopped. Yet we have to pay the bank cost. Dear sir I do respect your position as ceo and think that you are a very inteligent man; i agree with “the people should come first”. So why not become the bank that makes that happen.

  11. The key to success is education, and that starts at home and in our schools, if we can’t fix our education system, which is the root cause of inequalities, entitlement will remain.

  12. News Flash! As a Canadian, I have come to learn that racism exists everywhere, even in Canada where they treated their aboriginal Indians really really badly. Far worst than the apartheid regime ever did. To blame racism for the the state of the nation is not wholly accurate. To grow and stabilize your economy ( so that the under priviledged can have a fighting chance at equality) you have to have a honesty government and stop wide spread and blatant corruption.

  13. Perusing the internal memo of the CEO of Standard bank of South Africa was quite an insight into the dynamics of what is happening in South Africa and indeed Africa as a whole. I agreed with the man to a point but have to say he was only scratching the surface of the problem. Yes we all know racism has always been a problem all over the world due to lack of comprension of others and negative attitudes of parenting in general. We human beings have failed as a specie. We are for ever finding faults in others who do not look like us. Racism will not disappear but can be curbed through education compassion and reaching out to others. Racism cut both ways black on white and white on black and other forms .It is a matter of mutual respect for each other. The governments and the people have to want something to change in order for it to happen and all I can see around the world is lip service to change. The issue in SA is deeper than that. The main problem with Aftica is not the people but the government. The nepotism and favouritism of the government to their kith and kin has to be addressed. Accountability should be the order of the day. We need to educate the people and the so called politicians should be made accountable to the people. Basic standards of living has to be addressed and squandering of the state’s wealth has to stop. Contracts has to be given to those who are not going to siphon the money into their pockets. Politicians their families and friends have to declare their assets every six months and a panels should be set up at each declaration so that the panels are never infiltrated. Africa has all the resources to be great ,her people are resilient but the force driving it are so corrupt. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti should be an example of someone who stood against injustice and preached fairness . His life has been performed on Broadway . How many of the corrupt politicians dead or alive can equate such prestige ? The life of a villager in Bauchi is equivalent to the president of any country. After all a life is a life. Stop looting the wealth of the nations and throwing it at the west. Leave a great legacy for generations to be proud of. SA’s problem is the government and yes racism has to be addressed but the core problem is mismanagement.

  14. Yes, Apartheid was wrong. Just as any form of Racism is wrong, even though it is a “natural” occurrence. Nobody sanctions one country or nation for thinking they are superior to others, but bring skin colour into the picture and the situation is blown completely out of proportion.

    That said, Racism is alive and well in South Africa, but this situation will NOT be fixed by Ethnic Nepotism, which is in essence what BEE and BBBEE has become. Yes, BEE had it’s time and place, but 22 years after the fact, innocent people of ALL colour are suffering because of Ethnic Nepotism.

    The only solution is Equal Opportunity!

    On 7 May 2014 the first “born-frees” went to the polls to cast their vote. These people had exactly the same opportunities at school, but for some, it was the end of the line (specifically young white males). A wise man once said: “Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today.” In this country, everything is done “remember-the-past-based”.

    Imagine a Germany today, where they still blamed each other for the atrocities of WW2… Economic power house does not exactly come to mind.

  15. Shall we return to the apartheid era with its attempt to categorise and preserve the large differences between people based on ethnicity, heavily restricting chances for growth and change? No, even though the country was wealthier and safer for all.

    Shall we return to the mid-19th century when the Bantu and European populations were equal in number yet vastly different in so many aspects, when those in power hesitated on how best to create order in this land, fed by the cold new rationalist and racial evolutionary ideas coming out of Europe? No.

    Shall we return to the pre-European era with its terrible loss of life through black-on-black wars, and genocide and rape committed by the immigrating Bantu against the San, and without even the technological development of a wheel or any way of even recording words and stories? No.

    Shall we return to the pre-Bantu era when only the San and Khoi walked here, thereby removing any trace of the rainbow nation and all of her children that she has magnificently brought to be since then? Never.

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