Cyril Ramaphosa urges unity on SARB issue
President tells ANC brass to stop publicly contradicting each other on central bank
President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned ANC bigwigs to stop rattling investors by contradicting each other on the ownership and independence of the Reserve Bank.
Speaking at the party's national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla in Irene, Gauteng, last weekend, Ramaphosa said ANC members and leaders must "speak with one voice" on the Nasrec conference resolution on nationalising and expanding the mandate of the central bank.
Insiders close to the president said this was his way of stamping his authority on the party, stopping leaders such as secretary-general Ace Magashule from "second-guessing" him in public.
Ramaphosa's detractors are frustrated with the ANC's inaction in implementing conference resolutions, and pushed for the nationalisation of the Bank to be in the party's manifesto. In March last year then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene stopped the ANC in parliament from tabling a motion to nationalise the Bank, telling his comrades that the timing was not right as credit ratings agency Moody's was in the country.
Ramaphosa has emphasised the independence of the Bank, but his rivals want the ANC to speak louder about its intention to change ownership of the Bank.
In his prepared speech, which the Sunday Times has seen, Ramaphosa said: "We must therefore speak with one voice and have a consistent message, as investors take flight when we speak at variance with one another. This is especially important on issues such as the ownership, independence and mandate of the South African Reserve Bank [SARB], our commitment to investigating the possibility of introducing prescribed assets - what I call developmental assets - in the financial sector, and land reform.
"The ANC has, rightly, emphasised that the Reserve Bank must ensure that its approach to monetary policy, while not sacrificing price stability, should take account of employment creation and economic growth. This consideration is appropriate in light of our high levels of unemployment, it is provided for in the constitution, and the governing party's explicit emphasis on this is not reason for alarm. All ANC members and deployed cadres should speak with one voice on this matter."
Insiders said Ramaphosa further said changes to the Bank's ownership must be made in a "systematic and responsible manner".
There are fears within Ramaphosa's circle that nationalising the Bank may come with a hefty price tag as shareholders may ask for billions of rands.
Some NEC members interpreted his speech as warning against nationalising the Bank at the moment.
Ramaphosa assured the meeting that the party remained committed to implementing ANC conference resolutions. However, he warned about sending conflicting messages about the independence of the Bank.
"Ownership of the SARB is distinct from the independence of the Bank and we remain committed to addressing the anomaly where the central bank has private shareholders. However, we must remain mindful of strategic, financial and tactical considerations that affect when and how we will address this situation. The conference resolution is clear and immutable: we need to bring ownership under public ownership," he said.
An NEC member who did not want to be named told the Sunday Times that party leaders left the meeting with the consensus that "comrades must speak in one voice on the matter of nationalisation of the Bank".
"The president made it clear that there shouldn't be any contradictions. The matter of the independence of the SARB was paramount and should be reflected when members speak about nationalisation of the Reserve Bank," the NEC member said.
The leaders told the meeting it had become clear that there were "comrades" who did not understand the intricacies of implementing resolutions in a responsible manner and who may "have spoken out of turn", but everyone was now on the same page.
"The ANC has made progress in determining the hows of nationalising the Reserve Bank, and there should be no confusion. There needs to be a way of how this should be done and we agreed in the meeting that it will be done but we don't need to make noise about it until we develop a formula, and there is a formula that is being developed to keep the process fault-proof and protect our national asset," the member said.
Another NEC member said he interpreted Ramaphosa's speech as a warning not to rush into nationalising the bank.
"He was saying it's not wise to nationalise at the moment. There are shareholders who are watching and they are looking at making billions if we buy them out. He was saying right now it might not be the right time."
Acting party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa was not available for comment.