JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has re-triggered market concern about the independence of the Reserve Bank after reports it had agreed at its policy conference on Wednesday that the central bank should be nationalised.
Two party sources said a proposal to make the central bank fully state-owned was agreed at a party plenary session.
The rand currency extended losses to 2 percent against the dollar in response to the proposal that filtered out of a closed-door session on the last day of the conference. It later recovered to trade down 1.4 percent at 13.39 against the dollar.
Calls for nationalisation follow an earlier row over the central bank’s mandate that rattled foreign investors just as South Africa’s economy fell into recession and as unemployment is close to 28 percent.
Following the plenary on Wednesday, the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee Enoch Godongwana told reporters the bank’s independence should be guaranteed but it was a “problem” that the regulator was in private hands.
“The resolution agrees that the independence of the Reserve Bank should be guaranteed ... But there is general agreement that the Reserve Bank that is still private centric is an anomaly,” Godongwana said.
Most central banks in the world are wholly state-owned. But the mention of nationalisation in South Africa is enough to spook investors as left-wing elements of the ANC have also called for mines and banks to be state-owned.
“It’s largely symbolic but is a clear statement of intent from the ANC on more to come,” said Nomura emerging markets analyst Peter Attard Montalto.
“Ownership doesn’t legally allow them to do anything as shareholders. That conflicts with the constitutional mandate, but it shows the direction of travel here.”
Policy recommendations made at this week’s conference will only be approved for implementation at a December summit when a successor to President Jacob Zuma will also be chosen.
The proposal is particularly sensitive after an official anti-graft watchdog last month recommended the central bank’s mandate be changed to place more focus on growth and not just inflation and the currency.
The South African Reserve Bank has been privately owned since its establishment in 1921.
The shareholders have no rights or involvement in the conduct of monetary policy, financial stability policy or banking regulation.
Other recommendations made by the ANC’s economic committee included conducting a land audit to address the racial inequality in ownership 23 years after the end of apartheid, Godongwana said.
Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard, Joe Brock, Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by James Macharia/Jeremy Gaunt