Among my family’s memorabilia I came across this old ‘banksakkie’, printed in green: Stellenbossche District Bank Limited.
I never knew that Stellenbosch had its own bank, much less that my father and grandfather spent many hours there on business.
My dad tells me the bank (which was at the corner of Church Street and Bird Street) was later used as an art gallery. Today we know it as a restaurant.
I did a little private investigation and found a book on the district bank (written by Bun Booyens in the 1980s)…
Here are a few Questions and Answers about the bank:
WHEN WAS THE BANK FOUNDED?
The Stellenbossche District Bank was founded in 1882 with a capital of 15 000 pounds (totaling one thousand shares of 15 pounds each).
WHY DID STELLENBOSCH HAVE ITS OWN BANK?
In the 1700’s and 1800’s most banking-related affairs were handled by the Dutch-East Indian Company.
When the Kompanjie started having financial problems (at the end of the 1700s), other banks started to emerge.
When the Cape came under British rule banks such as Standard Bank and Barclays were introduced in the area.
Between 1836 and 1853, banking in the countryside grew considerably; 31 small banks (or district banks) were established.
Stellenbosch’s first district bank was “The Stellenbosch Bank” (founded in 1854) but it was declared insolvent in 1877. The Cape Commercial Bank was liquidated in 1882.
When the new Stellenbossche District Bank appeared, many people thought it would not survive financially. Yet it was the only district bank that existed until recently.
WHY DISTINGUISHED THE STB DISTRIKSBANK FROM THE OTHER FAILING DISTRICT BANKS?
In its first year the bank already owned 37% of the town’s assets, and four years later 71%. There are different theories about why the new bank did so well – here are 3 briefly:
1. Most Stellenbossers at the time were farmers, and the longer-term credit provided by the centralized British banks wasn’t viable to them. In stead they preferred short-term, seasonal credit. Managers and board members of the District Bank were often local farmers themselves, making them more savvy when it came to local investments and wine prices.
2. The District Bank offered better rates (5 to 5,5%) while the Standard Bank offered an average of 3.5% at that time.
3. Patriotism and politics played a major role. The Bank received a lot of support from Afrikaans businesses, especially after the Jameson raid of 1859 and the anti-imperialist sentiments that followed.
WHAT HAPPENED WHEN THE COUNTRY BECAME A UNION IN 1910?
After the forming of the new ‘Union of South Africa’ the Stellenbosch banks apparently agreed to cooperate and offer the same interest rates so that the playing field could be equal.
The District Bank was nevertheless still the most popular as a “local bank”, perceived as caring for the interests of the community rather than those of foreign shareholders.
WHAT HAPPENED THEN?
Bun Booyens’ book only records the bank’s history until the 1980’s.
So I asked my grandfather (not a born Stellenbosser but one who moved here in the 60’s) what became of the District Bank.
Apparently the District Bank amalgamated with Boland Bank in the late 1970s, and although the District Bank retained its name and identity for a few years, it was finally changed to the District Bank Limited in 1981.
Many Stellenbossers will still remember Boland Bank. As far as I understand, the bank later merged with Nedbank and the office on the corner of Kerkstraat and Dorp Street was closed.
WHAT IS LOCATED IN De Oude Bank TODAY?
Companies like the District Bank were influential at the time, but, as history testifies, the unhealthy sentiments of Afrikaans nationalism eventually caused the downfall of many Afrikaans companies later on.
Today the Old Bank is a busy street corner where local and overseas guests meet – a place of hospitality.
Many of the old founders and managers of the District Bank are still commemorating in our street names!
In Uniepark, for example, Hendrik Bergh Avenue, Martinson Street and Van Coppenhagen Street remembers three managers of the Stellenbossche District Bank.
If you have any other stories about the old bank, please write to us!
Artikel en scans : Y Coetsee 2017
Sources: Bun Booyens, Die Stellenbossche Distriksbank 1882 – 1982 (uitgegee 1982)
Class, Caste and Color: A Social and Economic History of the South African Western Cape, edited by Wilmot James (2017)