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What made Manuel blow the whistle?

South Africa has had its share of wars, protests and punch-ups: Boer against Brit, black against white and black against black. But a scrummage between white-collar corporations was something new. Starting last September a war of attrition involving some of the country’s most influential power brokers dominated the banking sector. The issue: should two successful South African banks, Standard Bank Investment Corporation (Stanbic) and Nedcor, follow the global fashion and merge – or were they already an optimal size? One said they were, the other said they weren’t. A bewildered finance minister ended up making the decision for them. This June, he pulled the fighting packs apart. Chris Cockerill reports

Laubscher: "banks cannot stand alone"

Simmonds Street, Johannesburg, is the site of Standard Bank's sprawling headquarters, a biosphere full of bankers, high flyers, secretaries and their hairdressers. But this self-contained world, insulated from the day-to-day ravages of a restless city, came under siege last year. The invader, in the form of Nedcor - its smaller rival - was camped outside the gates for nine months.

As visitors approached the Stanbic complex a banner urged: "Hoot to give the Neds the boot!" Posters on the walls angrily demanded "Is this by Mutual consent?" (A reference to Old Mutual, the South African life assurer, which has a controlling stake in Nedcor and 22% of Stanbic, and saw their merger as a convenient exit.)

Nedcor's headquarters are in Main Street, just a short walk away. Richard Laubscher, chief executive of Nedcor, took that walk last October 5, three weeks after he had shocked Stanbic with an audacious bid.

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