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President Jacob Zuma and his clique have control of South Africa’s commercial banks firmly in their sights, it has emerged. Zuma ally Mosebenzi Zwane – the mines minister who played a key role in helping the rich Gupta family acquire Eskom coal supplier Optimum – is a central figure in plans to maintain a tighter grip on banks. The Gupta family is linked to the Zuma family in a range of controversial deals involving state funds and entities. South Africa’s big banks have been the focus of political discussions after they allegedly blacklisted the Gupta family. Banks are also not lending sufficient sums to South Africa’s ailing national carrier, SAA, which recently posted an advertisement calling for R16bn in loans. President Zuma’s plan to gain greater control of banks is gathering momentum. The intention, judging from Zwane’s recommendations to Cabinet, is to change the Banks Act, shifting control over bank licences from the South African Reserve Bank to the finance minister. Meanwhile, there are moves afoot to dislodge finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who has publicly committed to doing whatever he can to ensure national interest is safeguarded in the management of state funds. It is widely believed that a Zuma acolyte, such as Eskom’s Brian Molefe, has been lined up to replace Gordhan. And, senior politicians are piling pressure on Sarb officials, with ANC deputy secretary-general Jesse Duarte lashing out at the central bank through a Gupta-owned television channel. – Jackie Cameron
By Matthew le Cordeur
Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane reportedly recommended to Cabinet a drastic change to the Banks Act that would allow the Finance minister to control bank licenses.
This formed part of an inter-ministerial committee he led to investigate why South Africa’s top banks blacklisted the Gupta family and their businesses after allegations of state capture with their friend President Jacob Zuma were made.
Currently, the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) is the authority that controls bank licenses, but Business Day has a memo authenticated by “individuals in the financial and regulatory arena” that shows Zwane’s recommendations to Cabinet that would put the power of the banks in the powerful political seat.
“Zwane’s recommendation (which occurred a few months ago) to the Cabinet was that the Banks Act, which makes provision for the Bank to appoint a registrar who has the authority to license banks, be amended,” Business Day deputy editor Carol Paton revealed on Wednesday.
“The banking supervision standards and regime are based on the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, as well as standards applied by the IMF and other multilateral organisations,” she explained. “Banking supervision that is open to political interference by the executive would not stand up to scrutiny.”
Sarb is not protecting rand – Duarte
This comes as Jessie Duarte deputy secretary-general of the African National Congress, told Gupta-owned ANN7 that the reserve bank was failing to protect the rand on Tuesday.
“The South African Reserve Bank needs to cushion the rand, but the Reserve Bank itself is privately owned and that is a difficulty,” she said.
She was speaking out on the Hawks investigation involving surrounding Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which has caused market uncertainty and seen the rand lose over R1/$ in the last two weeks, declining from around R13.30 to R14.50 on Wednesday.
The Sarb hit back, saying in a statement on Tuesday that it is carrying out its mandate, it does not bow to any pressure, whether it be political or from the private sector.
“The SARB accounts to the people of South Africa through Parliament,” it said.
“We wish to reiterate that the shareholding structure of the Reserve Bank has no bearing on any policy decisions that the executive management of the Reserve Bank, being the governor and deputy governors, takes in implementing the Reserve Bank’s constitutional mandate,” it said.
“Neither the Board nor the SARB’s shareholders have any say or influence over policy decisions. The board of directors is responsible for the governance of the SARB.”
Pravin Gordhan’s role as Finance minister hangs in the balance, with allegations that the Hawks will arrest him within the next two week over its investigation in the Sars investigative unit set up during his tenure as commissioner from 1999 to 2009.
Gordhan allegedly told Treasury staff at a meeting on Friday that the Guptas were attacking him because of the work the department was doing.
The Guptas responded to the report, saying it believes that a “narrative has been constructed” against them and accused media houses of contributing to a “flawed perception” of them. “We repeat the challenge to our detractors – if you have evidence against us, please bring it,” the family said.
— Free King Dalindyebo (@Spiwo) August 29, 2016
Who will replace Gordhan?
Now, the anti-corruption crusader could be replaced by Gupta-friendly individuals, such as local government minister Des van Rooyen or Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.
Both individuals have criticised Gordhan and have often defended the Guptas.
“It’s a bit unfair to colour people in a certain colour very quickly without getting facts, even hounding people out of South Africa and closing their bank accounts without an investigation,” Molefe told EWN this year. “Nobody has come forward and said this is the wrong that has been done, it’s the absence of anybody showing the wrong that has been done.”
Van Rooyen was given a tongue lashing by the ANC on Tuesday for his comments regarding Gordhan on Monday.
In his role as Mkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) treasurer, Van Rooyen accused Gordhan of galvanising the media to garner sympathy from other people.
Weekend special 3-day-Minister Des van Rooyen criticising current finance minister Pravin. Shows what kind of FM he would have been then.
— Mandy Wiener (@MandyWiener) August 30, 2016
“If you are given an opportunity to respond through state institutions, why then run to media and give responses to the media,” Van Rooyen said, according to eNCA.
“To take the matter – which is supposed to be processed within appropriately established state institutions – to the public, … is not necessarily how we should be handling this matter.”
He said the MKMVA was “not comfortable with the linkage of the president to this investigation”.
“These investigations were instituted independently by Sars (SA Revenue Service) under the leadership of National Treasury,” he said. “So it can’t be correct that all of a sudden it is the president who must carry the blame as if he started this investigation.”
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Tuesday that the MKMVA should not enter the fray regarding the Hawks Sars probe, which has caused market uncertainty and seen the rand lose over R1/$ in the last two weeks, declining from around R13.30 to R14.50.
“They contribute to the cacophony of noise, which promotes general confusion, and the perception of a politically motivated persecution,” he said on Tuesday.
Mantashe said that for the MKMVA to choose Van Rooyen to speak out on the matter was a terrible choice.
What is Zwane’s role in saga?
Zwane allegedly helped the Guptas in their acquisition of Optimum from Glencore three months after he was appointed, and his political advisor has alleged business ties to the Guptas.
After Zuma promoted Zwane from provincial politics to run the mines ministry in September, Malcolm Mabaso, 33, became his political adviser, Bloomberg reported in February.
“Mabaso and Salim Essa, a business partner of the Guptas, are both directors of a company called Premium Security and Cleaning Services, according to publicly available company filings,” the report explained.
Yesterday I was just asking a friend where Mosebenzi Zwane is hiding. Today he makes an appearance & all one hears is gibberish yet again.
— Kgauza wa Lecowza (@KgaugeloSM) August 31, 2016
However, Zwane defended his role as mines minister. “My job is to ensure that I engage with the stakeholders without having favourites,” Zwane told Bloomberg this year. “I will not favour any businessperson – whether the Guptas – unduly so…”
“I engage with them on the issues of the country, I engage with them on the issues of asking them to invest more in South Africa,” he told Fin24 this year. “I will continue to deal with a number of CEOs and I will move to other countries to talk to them to attract investment.”
Guptas hit back
The Gupta family, owners of Oakbay Investments and friends of President Jacob Zuma, have been subjected to “cruel and harsh” treatment from the media in the country, contributing to the decision to sell their local businesses, Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa told Bloomberg on Tuesday.
“There’s never a right time to sell a business, but we’ve had some interest from some international parties,” Howa said. “We’d be crazy to close our eyes just to one party, so we will consider other offers as well.”
The Guptas said on Sunday that they are in discussions with several international prospective buyers and will make further announcements soon. “We believe that this decision is in the best interests of our business, the country and our colleagues,” they said in a statement. – Fin24
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