The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) says the shares of the about 800 private shareholders of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) must expropriated and placed in state ownership.

Last month, the EFF introduced the South African Reserve Bank Amendment Bill, with many analysts viewing it as a not-so-subtle attempt at nationalisation of the country’s central bank. And despite parliament’s own legal advisors saying the EFF motion probably ‘doesn’t pass constitutional muster,’ the red berets remain undeterred.

In a recent presentation to parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance and Select Committee on Finance, EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu claimed the SA Reserve Bank presides over a banking and insurance sector owned by the white minority, where racial profiling allows discriminatory practices against black people. This refers to the ongoing currency rigging case involving up to 28 banks in 2017.

“The SARB is toothless, evidenced by its inaction when the banks fixed the currency.”

SARB, a bastion of independence and good governance?

While the SARB has been hailed as a bastion of independence and good governance, the EFF sees it otherwise. 

The SARB presides over sophisticated cross-border illicit financial flows, resulting in tax avoidance and base erosion, said Shivambu.

A campaign run by Dear South Africa – a legally recognised and constitutionally protected non-profit platform which enables the public to co-shape all government policies, amendments and proposals – elicited several thousand responses.

“In my opinion, the amendments are a preliminary to temporary elected politicians having unprecedented control over state finances. This is an unhealthy risky situation in the world of finance. Looting would be that much easier, and checks and balances would be nigh nonexistent if such politicians could change controls at will.”

Another endorses the EFF move: “For once I agree with Julius Malema. Those in control where there are no checks and balances have robbed us blind.”

Not viable

“It’s madness,” says Dawie Roodt, senior economist at Efficient Group.

“The economy is in depression and they are aiming at something – ownership – which is irrelevant for now. Ironically, nationalising a central bank at a time when private monies [such as cryptocurrencies] are gaining traction is likely to boost them even more.”

Roodt previously sounded the alarm over a possible motivation for nationalising the SARB: in 2018 it had assets of R170 billion on its balance sheet belonging to the state but not available for state spending.

A good portion of this, Moneyweb reported, was accumulated when Trevor Manuel was finance minister and tax revenues exceeded budget projections. Manuel reportedly handed over R70 billion to the state with the ‘express instruction’ that it may not be used in future for state spending.

A smart move, but a huge temptation at a time when it could solve a lot of problems.

Expanding on its motivation for introducing an SARB amendment bill, the EFF cites this famous quote attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty): “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

The EFF says the SARB’s private ownership structure is majority white and does not reflect the demographics of SA.

“We are proposing a law, an amendment that will take shares from 800 odd private shareholders [and give] to 57 million South Africans.”

Global trends

Research by the EFF suggests just eight of the roughly 240 central banks in the world have private owners.

The South African Reserve Bank and seven other central banks (Belgium, Greece, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey and US) have shareholders other than the governments of their respective countries.

The proposed amendment bill will vest the power to appoint SARB directors with the minister of finance, who will also have the power to appoint its auditors.

The EFF wants Section 10 of the SARB Act to be amended to remove its power to “form shares” for issue to private owners, as these will henceforth be owned by the state.

Section 13 of the SARB Act outlines certain prohibited businesses, such as the purchase of its own shares, or the purchase of shares in a bank (without the minister of finance’s approval). 

The proposed bill seeks to remove these prohibitions, which would allow the SARB to purchase its own shares, buy shares in a bank, and remove limitations on its ability to purchase government bonds from National Treasury.

Also up for amendment is Section 21 of the SARB Act, which limits the Reserve Bank’s share capital to two million shares of R1 each.

SARB mandate

The Reserve Bank’s mandate is to protect the value of the rand in the interests of balanced and sustainable growth, to supervise the banking sector, and to act as lender of last resort to the commercial banks.

The latest financial results show the bank holds total assets of about R1 trillion, an increase of R264 billion over the 2019 figure due to high values for its gold and foreign exchange reserves, reports Moneyweb.

Though the bank made net income of R7 billion for the year ended March 2020, dividends paid to shareholders is capped at R200 000.

SARB shareholders identified by the EFF

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, with 10 000 shares, according to the EFF presentation), DA shadow minister of finance Hill Lewis (10 shares), Anton Rupert Trust, Absa Bank, Discovery Limited, FirstRand Bank and Nedcor, to name a few. 

But as lawyers have pointed out, expropriation without compensation is unconstitutional as things stand.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that expropriation must be accompanied by compensation.

Advocate Noluthando Mpikashe, the parliamentary legal advisor, told the standing committee on finance that the law is vague as to what is considered just and equitable compensation, and that the EFF bill can expect a rough ride through the Constitutional Court.

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Presh JM Reporter

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