Publication Details

1. Political and social reforms in the 1990's

Major political and social reforms took place in South Africa since the beginning of this decade. In the internal democratisation process, the ANC Government was elected in April 1994 with a 64 per cent majority. This introduced a period of transformation, based on the principles of equity, freedom and the restoration of basic human rights for all the people of the country.

Within the country, the political changes led to the stimulation of expectations that were justifiable but not always realistic. Urgent needs for housing, better education, health care and other basic services, were immediately exposed. The new Government was faced with many legitimate demands for the immediate supply of these facilities, and responded by producing a comprehensive programme for Reconstruction and Development (the RDP).

Economists pointed out at the time that the RDP presented only one side of the macroeconomic framework that was needed for a sustainable longer-term economic restructuring programme. The RDP provided a list of the needs of the people that obviously added up to more than what the economic resources of the country could produce. After about two years in power, the ANC Government in June 1996 also produced a Macroeconomic Strategy for Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), that concentrated more on the supply-side of the economy. The analysis identified constraints that must be removed to raise the economic growth potential of the country on a permanent basis to a higher level, and provided some indication on how Government will proceed to accomplish RDP objectives over a longer period of time. These two supplementary programmes, namely the one for reconstruction and development, and the other for growth, employment and redistribution, still form the basis for macroeconomic policy within the country.

The social and political reforms had important implications, also for South Africa's international economic relations. During the 1970's and the 1980's, a comprehensive programme of punitive international economic actions were introduced against South Africa, mainly through the auspices of the United Nations. These included measures such as trade boycotts, disinvestment campaigns, the withdrawal of foreign loan funds from South Africa, and the implementation of wide-ranging economic sanctions in general. These international actions were withdrawn soon after the fully democratic elections of 1994 took place, and the opportunities were opened up for South Africa to reintegrate its economy again in the world environment.

The ANC Government committed itself to a macro-economic policy based on the sound principles of the market economy, but guided also by the needs and the nature of the social reforms that are now taking place within the country. International economic policy must be directed towards the gradual integration of South Africa in the international economic environment, and towards the removal of unnecessary controls, such as exchange controls, that may inhibit this objective.


2. The position of the South African Reserve Bank

The South African Reserve Bank is one of the older central banks outside of Europe. It was established in 1921, and has played a major part in the development of the South African financial system over the past 77 years.

Since its incorporation in 1921, the Reserve Bank has always been a relatively independent central bank. Even today, the total share capital of the Bank is held entirely by the private sector, with two important restrictions in the South African Reserve Bank Act:

no individual shareholder may hold more than ½ per cent of the capital of the Bank;


the Bank may never pay a dividend of more than 10 per cent per annum on the nominal value of its capital.

Control over the Bank is vested in a Board of Directors, consisting of 14 members. Seven members are elected by the shareholders, and seven are appointed by the President of the Republic of South Africa. The seven members appointed by Government includes the Governor and three Deputy Governors, the only full-time members of the Board. The four Governors form the very important Monetary Policy Sub-committee of the Board, and the power to take decisions on monetary policy issues has been delegated to this Sub-committee by the Board.

In terms of the South African Reserve Bank Act, the Reserve Bank has full responsibility for the implementation of monetary policy in South Africa. In terms of the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Parliament has tasked the Bank with the clear instruction to protect the value of the South African currency. The independence of the Bank in pursuing this objective is also guaranteed within the Constitution.

The Reserve Bank is accountable to its shareholders, mainly for the internal management of the organisation but, more important, to Parliament for the implementation of monetary policy. The Bank is required to consult regularly with the Minister of Finance, to submit an Annual Report on its activities to Parliament, and to appear before the Parliamentary Committee, known as the Portfolio Committee for Finance, from time to time.

The Reserve Bank has not been granted the same autonomy in respect of the country's international financial relations. In the management of the official foreign reserves of the country, and in its operations in the foreign exchange market, the Bank acts as an agent for the Minister of Finance. The Minister also holds responsibility for the foreign exchange control policy.

This position of relative independence of the Reserve Bank in respect of domestic monetary policy issues has been respected by the new Government, although the situation is from time to time challenged by certain pressure groups within the country. For understandable reasons, the financial disciplines applied by the Reserve Bank in pursuing its objective of protecting the value of the currency, are not always appreciated in all quarters. There are strong pressure groups that believe that the new South Africa justifies also a new monetary policy that will provide more funds at lower interest rates for the funding of the massive needs for social reform. The Bank is often criticised for being over-ambitious with its goals for inflation, and many South Africans still believe in the merits of a trade-off between inflation and growth, and detest the so-called "high interest rate" policy of the Bank.


3. The challenge of financial globalisation

Over the past five years, South Africa had to face the challenge of re-joining the world economy, just at a time when the global financial markets were in a process of major change. After more than two decades of economic isolation, many distortions were created within the South African economy that also had to be corrected as part of the process of re-integration in the world environment.

The first task South Africa had to undertake was to remove fairly extensive exchange controls that were introduced since 1961, mainly in reaction to economic actions applied against the country for non-economic reasons. Although there were many pressures for the immediate removal of all the exchange controls after the 1994 elections, the South African authorities opted for a gradualist, rather than a "big bang" approach, mainly because of the depleted situation in the official foreign exchange reserves, and also the need for gradual structural adjustment in the domestic economy.

All the exchange controls were segmented into the following three categories:

controls applicable to current account transactions;


controls applicable to the movement of capital owned by non-residents; and

controls applicable to the outward investment of capital by South African residents.

The controls applicable to current account transactions were removed first, and South Africa now complies fully with the requirements of Article VIII of the Articles of Agreement of the International Monetary Fund.

Secondly, all controls applicable to non-residents, such as a compulsory debt standstill arrangement for the repayment of foreign loans, and the two-tier exchange rate system for investments in South African equities and securities by non-residents, were removed. In the present situation, non-residents are completely free to bring funds into South Africa, and to repatriate funds, for whatever purpose.

Thirdly, controls applicable to the outward investment of capital by residents were gradually relaxed on a sectoral basis. Initially, controls on direct investment abroad by South African corporates were relaxed as far as possible. As a second step, institutional investors were enabled to diversify part of their portfolios into foreign currency denominated assets. Since last year, private individuals have been allowed to invest limited amounts of their savings outside of South Africa.

The philosophy of the gradual relaxation of the exchange controls is based on the assumption that, on a net basis, South Africa will gain more from inflows of non-resident capital than what will be lost through the outflows of resident capital. So far, this policy was vindicated by the actual events of the past three years. Over this period, for example, non-residents increased their holdings of South African equities and bonds by an estimated R92 billion (US $20,1 billion), and South African institutional investors increased their holdings of foreign assets by R37,4 billion (US $7,4 billion). Comparisons of this nature are, however, still distorted by the remaining exchange controls.

South Africa has now removed about 75 per cent of the exchange controls that existed four years ago. Only one major step must still be taken, and that is to release the blocked funds owned by former residents (i.e. emigrants). It is estimated that the total value of the emigrants' funds held blocked in South Africa is in the region of $3 billion. For the rest, ceilings and limits will be raised gradually until all the controls have become ineffective, and can finally be repealed.

Other steps that had to be taken in this process of reintegration in the world financial markets were to normalise South Africa's relations with multi-national institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and its economic agencies, the African Development Bank, and many other regional economic co-operation arrangements.

The integration process also required ratings from the international credit rating agencies, such as Moody's, Standard & Poor, Japanese rating agencies, and Fitch IBCA. Moody's provided an investment rating at the lowest level, and Standard & Poor a rating marginally below investment quality. With good support from the other agencies, the South African Government was able to raise more than R11,3 billion in various international capital markets in seven bench-mark issues made over the past few years.

The globalisation process also required of South Africa to liberalise its domestic banking sector, to develop the domestic financial markets, including the market for foreign exchange, and to upgrade the national payment, clearing and settlement system.


4. The monetary policy model of the South African Reserve Bank

In the environment of major political and socio-economic reforms, the Reserve Bank had to continue to pursue a monetary policy that would protect the value of the currency.

Traditionally, since 1986, the Reserve Bank applied a monetary policy model that was firmly anchored to changes in the M3 money supply. At the time of the introduction of the monetary base model, the M3 money supply was increasing at a rate of close to 30 per cent per annum, and the rate of inflation was close to 20 per cent.

The rate of growth in the money supply was gradually reduced to below 10 per cent for the first time in 1992 (8,0 per cent), and was kept at this level through 1993. The rate of inflation declined into a single digit figure for the first time in 1993, after more than 20 years of double digit inflation. It has now stayed below the 10 per cent level for more than 5 years.

The money supply model required some strict controls over the amount of liquidity available in the banking sector and, of course, also the acceptance of realistic interest rates. Total bank credit extension to the private sector, for example, increased by 28 per cent in 1988 and contributed to the inflationary pressures in the economy. In 1992, total claims of the banking sector against the private sector increased by only 9 per cent to contribute to the lower rate of increase in the money supply.

The success of the monetary policy model during the period 1986 to 1993 is unquestionable. Against the background of the major reforms in the South African economic structure over the past four years, the M3 money supply has, however, lost some of its usefulness as an anchor for monetary policy. Consistent relationships that existed previously between M3 and the demand for goods and services, and, with time lags, prices were broken by the structural changes in the economy. The income velocity of the money supply declined sharply.

Over the past four years, the rate of increase in the money supply has persistently stayed around the level of about 15 per cent, being about 5 full percentage points above the annual guidelines of the Reserve Bank. Over the same period, total bank credit extension increased by about 16 per cent per annum, a rate of growth that the Reserve Bank also regarded as excessive.

And yet, inflation remained very well under control. After a depreciation of the rand of 22 per cent in 1996, inflation increased temporarily from a level of about 5 per cent to almost 10 per cent a year later. Over the past twelve months, however, inflation has come down again to the level of about 5 per cent per annum.

These developments forced the Reserve Bank to reconsider its monetary policy model and to follow a more eclectic approach in which a strict financial (monetary) package is used as a guideline for the purpose of taking monetary policy decisions. This financial package includes:


movements in the money supply and its components: M1 M2 and M3;

changes in total bank credit extension, both to Government and the private sector;

the level of interest rates and the structure of the yield curve;

changes in the gold and foreign exchange reserves; and

movements in the exchange rate of the rand.

In support of this monetary policy approach, it should be noted that South Africa has a floating exchange rate system, and that the effective Reserve Bank rate for providing liquidity to banking institutions is based on a daily tender for repurchase transactions in which the amount of the tender is fixed by the Bank, but the interest rate fluctuates.

In managing the amount of liquidity that the Reserve Bank is prepared to provide to banking institutions, the monetary authorities maintain an important influence on the level of interest rates, and therefore on the amount of bank credit extension, and on the money supply. Interest rates therefore serve as the main operational instrument of monetary policy.

The relatively large increases in the money supply and in bank credit extension over the past four years can be explained partly by:


almost explosive increases in volumes on the various financial markets;

the reintermediation in the banking sector of certain financial transactions, such as direct lending by foreign banks to South African non-bank private sector institutions; and

the absorption of many new workers from the subsistence sector in the market economy.

Although the Reserve Bank remains concerned about the excessive growth rates in the money supply and bank credit extension, we have become more tolerant in recent years of these increases at the relatively higher rates.

In the situation, South Africa has to consider more seriously the introduction of inflation targets as an anchor for monetary policy purposes. The Reserve Bank has tentatively assumed a goal of maintaining inflation at a level that will be more or less in line with inflation in the economies of South Africa's major trading partners and competitors in world markets. This will, in the present environment, require inflation of less than 5 per cent per annum.

The exchange rate policy of South Africa is based on the assumption that low inflation will automatically also lead to a more stable exchange rate in the longer term. The Reserve Bank does intervene in the foreign exchange market from time to time, but then only to smooth out short-term fluctuations, or to provide liquidity to the market. As exchange controls are being phased out, the Bank's role in the foreign exchange market is also gradually reduced.


5. The banking sector

The integration of South Africa in the global financial markets had important implications for the South African banking sector. The official policy was to open up the South African banking sector for foreign participation, and to expose South African banking institutions to foreign competition. As a result of this policy, more than 20 foreign banks established themselves as operating institutions in South Africa, and more than 60 foreign banks do business in the country through representative offices.

Despite these changes, the South African banking sector remains relatively sound and well-managed. In line with world trends, some mergers are now taking place, and the approximately 35 domestic banks are rationalising their activities to face the challenges of globalisation.

Bank regulation and supervision are still done by the South African Reserve Bank, and are based entirely on the recommendations of the Basle Committee. Regulation and supervision concentrate on the management of risk exposures within each banking institution. The globalisation process is placing heavy demands on the resources of the Bank Supervisory Office.


6. The financial markets

Integration in the world financial markets required major restructuring of the institutional arrangements in the South African capital markets. Two years ago, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) introduced major reforms to provide for corporate ownership, foreign ownership (of stock brokers), dual capacity trading, negotiated commissions, and electronic screen trading. The JSE is continuing to improve its facilities by providing for the immobilisation and dematerialisation of stock, and for improved clearing and settlement arrangements. The total turnover on the JSE last year amounted to about $45 billion.

The most spectacular increase in volumes over the past few years took place in the Bond Exchange of South Africa. Total turnover in this market increased from the equivalent of US $553 billion in 1995, to US $927 billion in 1997, i.e. an increase of 67,6 per cent over just two years. The relaxation of the South African exchange controls made an important contribution to the development of the Bond Exchange. Total gross transactions by non-residents in this market last year exceeded $257 billion.

Interest is also growing in the South African Futures Exchange (SAFEX). The total number of contracts traded in this market increased from 3½ billion in 1995 to more than 5 billion in 1997.

An interesting further development that flowed from the globalisation process is the emergence of a Euro-rand market where the outstanding amount of rand denominated loans raised by non-South African borrowers from non-South African investors, is now R37½ billion. A substantial part of these loan issues were hedged by investing in South African bonds.

The market in foreign exchange in South Africa is also growing rapidly. The daily turnover in this market now exceeds $10 billion. Of particular importance is the expansion in forward cover operations in this market, where South African banks now carry a forward sales book of approximately $110 billion, fully covered by forward purchases of a similar amount.

The Reserve Bank recently introduced steps to encourage a more active development of the domestic inter-bank market for funds. It is the objective to ensure that short-term interest rates should be flexible, and should fluctuate to reflect changes in underlying market conditions. This is particularly important if account is taken of the growing volumes of short-term international capital movements.


7. Upgrading of the national payment, clearing and settlement system

To stay in step with the financial globalisation process, the Reserve Bank recently also upgraded the national payment, clearing and settlement system managed by the Bank. On 1998-03-09, the Bank introduced a new electronically operated South African Multiple Option Settlement (SAMOS) system.

This system provides for an electronic on-line real-time link between participating banks, and for secure fund transfers between these banks. It enables the banks to monitor and manage their liquidity positions continuously, and provides for electronically managed end-of-day settlement of interbank transactions. As from the beginning of October, it will become possible to settle transactions on an intra-day basis as and when instructions are received within the SAMOS system.

This versatile new settlement system, which is directly linked to SWIFT, will eventually hopefully also be used for cross-border settlements in the Southern African region.


8. The Southern African Development Community

The globalisation process has also extended South Africa's financial responsibilities into other African countries. A formal Treaty for economic co-operation in Southern Africa was entered into in 1995 between twelve countries in the region. This Treaty, referred to as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), provides for economic co-operation and, eventually, integration in the region.

Within SADC, there is a Committee of Governors of all the central banks of the region that has embarked on a number of co-operation projects that are intended to develop the financial systems and markets of the region. The approach of the Governors Committee at this stage is to develop the financial infrastructures in each of the countries, before venturing into the more demanding tasks of macro-economic co-ordination or integration. The current projects are intended to:


define the role and the functions of central banks in SADC;

standardise rules and systems for bank regulation and supervision;

develop financial markets and utilise existing markets in the interests of the region;

remove obstacles to the free movement of investment and other funds in the region;

improve national payment systems in each country; and

expand banking capacity and skills through training courses and exchange programmes.


9. Concluding remarks

The integration of South Africa in the world financial markets was stimulated by:


the major political reforms in the country since 1994:

the need of the country for foreign capital inflows to supplement its scarce own resources; and

the world-wide trend towards financial globalisation.

This integration process required of South Africa to:


apply sound and acceptable macroeconomic fiscal and monetary policies;

phase out exchange controls, albeit on a gradual basis;

open up the domestic banking sector for international competition;

restructure the financial markets;

upgrade the national payment, clearing and settlement system; and

get more involved in the development of the financial structure of the Southern African region.

The process of financial integration did not go without any setbacks. From February to October 1996, South Africa experienced its own foreign exchange market crisis that forced painful adjustments on the economy. In October 1997 South African financial markets were again afflicted by the East Asian crises.

We have, however, learned from both experiences, and remain optimistic about the benefits our country will derive from its continued participation in the financial globalisation process. Our approach at this stage is not to try to change the course of the financial globalisation process, but rather to adapt our policies and our financial structures to comply with the standards and the norms set by international investors.