Danger: ANC secretary general Ace Magashule (Delwyn Verasamy)
That ANC secretary general Ace Magashule seems hell-bent on a scorched-earth policy poses a clear and present danger to President Cyril Ramaphosa but, more ominously, to the country.
His statement on the Reserve Bank this week sent shivers down the country’s spine and echoed past attempts to meddle with the central bank’s mandate.
On September 1 2016, one Mosebenzi Zwane (then mining minister) issued a statement on an investigation into the conduct of the Reserve Bank as the “chairperson of the interministerial committee” set up by Cabinet to investigate the closing of Gupta family bank accounts.
The statement said the investigation would look into the mandate of the bank as it related to the banking sector. But what emerged thereafter was that Zwane’s statement was not endorsed by the Cabinet. In fact, Zwane had not even attended the Cabinet meeting. The statement was later retracted.
It was the first of a string of attacks on the central bank and but one example of the many desperate attempts by the faction in the ANC aligned to former president Jacob Zuma to fiddle with the independence of the Reserve Bank. Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s ill-fated report on the Absa/BankCorp issue was another and the ANC’s manifesto process this year was the latest, in which Magashule was accused of sneaking in a clause on changing the mandate of the bank to include economic growth and unemployment.
Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago made it clear thereafter that the bank’s mandate already includes factoring in economic growth.
But Magashule, in his statement this week, raised the issue yet again, with a hair-raising addition: that of quantitative easing.
Magashule, through ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, issued a nonsensical statement about “quantity” (not quantitative) easing and more muddled messages about the mandate of the Reserve Bank, which sent the rand into a tailspin.
Let’s be clear: there is nothing wrong with debating heterodox economics.
The problem in the ANC, however, is that what should have been a healthy debate to take the economy and the country forward was hijacked by the Bell Pottinger, Gupta-aligned looters who are seeking to return to power through any means possible, including destroying the ANC and the country.
The Magashule group is joined by the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has become an extension of the Zuma faction. The fledgling party has found another ally in Mkhwebane who, in her report on Absa, recommended that legislation on the mandate of the Reserve Bank be amended to include economic growth and unemployment. The decision was set aside by the courts.
The bank is an obvious target for rent-seekers, particularly as they attempt to extract their largesse. The EFF, Mkhwebane’s biggest defender, is alleged to have benefited from the VBS Mutual Bank heist in which the money of the poor was used to bankroll the lifestyles of wealthy banking barons.
Magashule has a knack of making bizarre economic statements when he is at his weakest, as he did this week.
Like Zuma, it is at this time when he is at his most dangerous. Recall when Zuma told the nation that little-known MP Des van Rooyen was the best appointment he had made to the helm of the treasury — the same Van Rooyen who has been proven to be a Gupta lackey and has not made it back as an MP, let alone to the Cabinet.
But a more pressing concern is that Ramaphosa is decidedly absent each time his renewal and reform project is scuppered by the alleged gangster occupying the ANC headquarters. It was Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana who were forced to do the heavy lifting to restore calm.
To be fair, Godongwana is a close ally of the president and put up a strident opposition to the statement released by Luthuli House on Tuesday.
When it comes to the economy, Ramaphosa should be leading from the front. His office in Luthuli House did eventually issue a statement late on Thursday after a meeting with the officials. Rather late than never.
In it, Ramaphosa said the officials agreed that the mandate of the Bank remained as is and that it was “simply not prudent” to nationalise the Reserve Bank now — two big wins for the president.
At the same time, we are reminded every day of the extent to which the state was captured under Zuma. It is difficult to trust any utterance emerging out of Magashule’s mouth, given his self-confessed friendship with the Gupta family and the conduct of the former president.
It is time Ramaphosa stamped his authority on the economic delinquents at Luthuli House who use lofty gobbledygook in an attempt to mask their insidious political agenda.