The ANC’s top six officials have launched a last-ditch political attempt to rescue VBS Mutual Bank from liquidation – a move that is set to pit the party against the SA Reserve Bank.
A meeting was held on Monday between the ANC’s top six officials and the party’s Limpopo leadership to discuss possible ways to save the troubled bank.
Sources with intimate knowledge of the meeting, held at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters, said the party’s Limpopo leadership recommended that the failed bank be converted into a Limpopo provincial government bank, run and operated by the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (Leda).
The Reserve Bank placed VBS under curatorship after a severe liquidity crisis following Treasury’s instructions to 15 municipalities in Limpopo, Gauteng and North West to withdraw their deposits because they were forbidden by law from using a mutual bank.
City Press later reported that senior VBS executives allegedly plundered hundreds of millions of rands from the bank – losing an estimated R1.5bn of depositors’ money.
An official who attended Monday’s meeting said President Cyril Ramaphosa was initially “hostile” to the idea, but eventually warmed to it.
Deputy President David Mabuza was said to be have appeared “neutral” and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule “keen”.
After the meeting, the ANC appointed a team – led by the national executive committee’s Limpopo deployee, Thoko Didiza – to investigate ways to save the bank, including the possibility of incorporating VBS into Leda.
Other members of the team include deputy minister of rural development and land reform Candith Mashego-Dlamini, former state security minister Bongani Bongo, Limpopo ANC deputy secretary Bioskop Makamu, head of the party’s governance sub-committee Thabo Mokone, and the head of the Limpopo ANC’s economic transformation sub-committee, Dickson Masemola.
Another senior ANC official who attended the meeting told City Press that the province was looking at an array of options, including styling VBS like KwaZulu-Natal’s Ithala Development Finance Corporation.
Ithala does not have a banking licence, but the Reserve Bank has granted the developmental finance institution an exemption to run a limited bouquet of banking services, including taking deposits.
A Limpopo ANC insider said that during the meeting, “the province recommended the hiring of a firm of actuaries to investigate how the incorporation of VBS into Leda could happen”.
“The company will have to conduct research about the economic impact of incorporating VBS into Leda,” the insider said.
“The research should answer a series of tough questions on whether VBS should be incorporated into Leda as the bank currently is, with all its debts and assets, or whether it should be liquidated first and the licence handed over to Leda.”
He said it made sense to incorporate VBS into Leda as Leda was already offering home loans and development finance to Limpopo’s residents through one of its many subsidiaries.
Leda and VBS, said a businessman close to senior Limpopo ANC officials, could make a good combination because VBS had a R1bn home, vehicle and small, medium and micro enterprise loan book.
But another senior ANC official who attended the meeting said: “There was no conclusive decision taken at the meeting. It is all work in progress. But our position is that it (VBS) can never be closed, it can never be liquidated. We will consult all the main shareholders.”
However, a key VBS stakeholder rubbished the plan conceived by the ANC in Limpopo, saying he was determined to resist it. He said it was a “desperate and hasty political football” aimed at “shielding and protecting certain individuals who were involved in gross corruption” at the scandal-plagued bank.
“People are rushing because they want to save certain individuals. It all just doesn’t make sense to me. They are playing games in order to divert attention from the real issues.
“Why not give the forensic investigating team a chance to do its work?” he asked.
“You cannot save the bank unless you understand the extent of the damage,” said the stakeholder, adding that VBS’s executives should be jailed for their role in collapsing the bank. “Whether the bank can be saved is neither here nor there, but first we need to understand what went down.”
Although the decision to liquidate VBS was not a foregone conclusion, three months ago the Reserve Bank’s deputy governor, Kuben Naidoo, told Parliament that while the central bank was working to save VBS, the chances of that happening were fading with each passing day.
Last month, the central bank’s executives announced that more than 22 000 VBS depositors would be paid a maximum of R100 000 through Nedbank – a further indication that the bank is likely heading for liquidation.
While the senior ANC official who attended Monday’s meeting with the top six agreed that VBS executives alleged to have looted the bank should be jailed, he said he was concerned by the Reserve Bank’s decision to transfer VBS’s 22 000-plus customers to Nedbank.
“Taking customers to Nedbank is wrong. There is a predetermined outcome to collapse this thing. If, by any chance, VBS is resuscitated, will the 22 000 customers be returned? The bank should continue operating in whatever form.”
A month ago, Naidoo told City Press that Nedbank’s appointment was informed by practical reasons, including that out of the country’s main banks, Nedbank was the most suitable because it had the most branches situated close to most of VBS’s clients in Venda, and it had products similar to those of VBS.
When City Press put it to the ANC official that the party’s move was interfering with the work of the Reserve Bank, he said: “You know we are the governing party; we cannot fold our arms and not come up with solutions.”
He also slammed “an aggressive media campaign by the bank’s curator to sway public opinion to arrive at a predetermined outcome meant to liquidate VBS”.
But curator Anoosh Rooplal dismissed suggestions that a predetermined decision to liquidate VBS had been made.
“We are in the process of restating the financial statements following the fraud and misrepresentations.
“Once the financial statements are restated, we will then know the true financial position in order to make a decision regarding the future of the bank,” he said.
Ramaphosa, who is already walking a tightrope in the ANC, needs the Limpopo provincial structures to survive a special national general council meeting allegedly being planned by his enemies in the party to oust him.
VBS executives, who in 2016 granted former president Jacob Zuma a R7.8m loan to settle debt relating to the upgrades at his Nkandla home, had backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ahead of the ANC’s leadership conference in Nasrec in December.
Last week, City Press reported that in December VBS secured a make-or-break R1bn deposit from the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), but the deal fell through when Dlamini-Zuma lost the ANC’s presidential contest to Ramaphosa.
The ANC’s Limpopo secretary, Soviet Lekganyane, who attended Monday’s meeting, said the province was yet to “formulate an approach on the VBS matter”.
“The only thing that we have was a conference resolution that we should seek to assist the bank,” he said, adding that no decision had yet been made to incorporate VBS into Leda.