Mzwandile Makwayiba. Picture: SOWETAN
Mzwandile Makwayiba. Picture: SOWETAN

Union federation Cosatu’s biggest member has thrown its weight behind calls to nationalise the SA Reserve Bank, and has questioned what is wrong with having a dictatorship steer the country forward. 

On Wednesday, the National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) lashed out at ANC leaders engaging in “embarrassing public spats” about implementation of the party’s resolutions. Nehawu president Mzwandile Makwayiba, also characterised finance minister Tito Mboweni and the ANC’s head of economic policy Enoch Godongwana as “enemies of the working class” for their stance on the Bank.

The comments illustrate how President Cyril Ramaphosa faces an uphill battle to get his alliance partners, some of whom supported his ascendancy to office, on board with his plans for economic reform.

Makwayiba was giving an opening address at the Nehawu national policy conference on the East Rand.

“This conference must tell us to find a way to call to order the leadership of our movement,” he said. “What is wrong about changing the mandate of the Reserve Bank to create jobs for our people. If the ANC resolution says we must nationalise the Reserve Bank, then let that be.”

Ramaphosa was forced to respond to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s recent comments that the party lekgotla had decided the Bank’s mandate be expanded beyond price stability and include growth and employment.

Magashule also said the lekgotla had directed the government to consider establishing a task-team to explore quantitative easing measures to address inter-governmental debts to make funds available for developmental purposes. However, a few hours after the announcement, Godongwana contradicted Magashule’s comments, saying that considering quantitative easing was not on the ANC’s agenda and that there was no decision by the party to expand the mandate of the Bank.

Mboweni also jumped into the fray, questioning what he described as “obsession” with the Bank. “I am now reaching a point of total exasperation with these continued attacks and obsession with the Reserve Bank. I have explained on many occasions the purposes and functions of the Reserve Bank. What is the issue?” 

This prompted Ramaphosa to issue a statement saying that while the ANC wanted the Bank to be nationalised, this was not economically prudent. Ramaphosa viewed the public spats as “not helpful”, and undermining the confidence of citizens and investors.

“It is our desire for the Reserve Bank to be publicly owned. However, we recognise that this will come at a cost, which, given out current economic and fiscal situation, is simply not prudent,” Ramaphosa said at the time.

On Wednesday, Makwayiba called for the Bank to be nationalised and for all the commanding heights of the economy to fall under state control so as to address SA’s socio-economic problems. 

Strongmen politics

“When the EFF says we must nationalise, we must not be found mumbling,” said Makwayiba. He also flirted with the idea of a dictatorship in SA, questioning what was wrong with strongmen politics if the idea was to achieve a common good.

“What is wrong with a dictatorship? This thing of two terms — where have you ever seen a revolution of 10 years? Why were we not complaining and saying ‘Fidel Castro, you cannot lead for so many years, because here in SA we believe in two terms?’”

In July 2016, scandal-prone former president Jacob Zuma, addressing school pupils in Tembisa, begged South Africans to allow him six full months as a dictator to solve the country's socio-economic crisis, pleading: “If you just give me six months to be a dictator, things will be straight.”

However, he resigned from office in February 2018 before he could finish his second term as head of state.

Makwayiba said the conference must find a way to help Nehawu unify the tripartite alliance at large, noting that during the 2016 local government elections the ANC lost the crucial metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay to a DA-led coalition.

“In the recent May 8 [national] elections we declined, and the 2021 municipal elections are coming up. Is this not a clear indication that our movement seems to follow the footsteps of other liberation movements in the continent? This conference must find a solution and remedy to deal with those issues.”

Tripartite alliance leaders from the ANC, SACP and Cosatu are expected to address the conference, which ends on June 29.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za