Government ready to launch state bank for South Africa

 ·10 Jan 2023

Minister of Communications Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says that the Postbank is ready to take up the role of a state bank in South Africa, with plans underway to roll out 100 new branches and to revamp the group’s infrastructure to be a fully-fledged bank.

Speaking to the SABC, Ntshavheni said that the bank is currently assessing which Post Office branches in the country are doing the best operationally and in terms of profitability, and these will be brought on board for the bank.

“We are targetting a rollout of 100 branches…and (we will) start the infrastructure revamp that is required,” she said.

“Currently, they (Postbank) operate at the Post Office, and there is no proper banking infrastructure. Banks operate at a different level, so they must put in the necessary infrastructure – when the (banking) licence comes in, then the bank will be readily available.”

The department is currently waiting for the necessary legislation to make its way through the National Assembly to give the Postbank the necessary basis to take on the role of a state bank. It is also waiting for approval from the South African Reserve Bank for a banking licence.

Ntshavheni tabled the South African Postbank Amendment Bill to the National Assembly in May 2022, which inserts and changes definitions in the South African Postbank Limited Act to allow it to function as a separate entity from the South African Post Office.

It would allow for the shareholding of Postbank to be transferred from the South African Post Office (SAPO) to the government and allow for the setting up of a Bank Controlling Company (BCC) – a holding company for the bank.

The bill is currently making its way through the various portfolio committees, last being discussed by the Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies in late November 2022.

Until the bill is approved by the NA – and the National Council of Provinces – and sent to the president for assent, the Postbank continues to operate as a subsidiary of the Post Office and can only offer transactional and savings accounts.

During discussions and deliberations on the bill, concerns were raised by the office of the Auditor General about the group’s readiness to become a fully-fledged bank, highlighting worries over security and controls. Red flags were also raised about cybersecurity and its overreliance on the Post Office, which is itself in dire financial straits.

State bank

Despite moves to make the Postbank a state-owned bank, Ntshavheni previously made it clear that it was a measure separate from the ANC’s push for a new state bank in South Africa.

There has been a big push from the ruling party in recent years to establish a state bank, particularly in the wake of high-profile account closures by the country’s major banks. Of particular interest is the fact that a state bank would be able to earn interest off customer deposits, which could bolster the country’s coffers and fund various projects.

President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined the government’s intention to form a state bank in 2020 – however, finance minister Enoch Godongwana has repeatedly shot down the idea, given the country’s tight budget and the lack of resources needed to establish one.

In March 2022, the finance minister said there were no plans in the government to launch a state bank. Despite this, the ANC has kept the plan in its back pocket.

According to Ntshavheni, president Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to make an announcement regarding the Postbank or state bank during his State of the Nation Address, scheduled for 9 February 2023.

Read: ANC pushing ahead with new state bank in South Africa

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