Zuma Watch

Russian hedge their bets – Zuma recall might happen

Putin aand Zuma.jpg

There is a real and strong possibility that President Jacob Zuma’s term in office will end in a month’s time – recalled by the African National Congress.

This is the message we got last week from conversations with ANC insiders and reading developments in the news.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his advisers are clearly getting the same message from their reading of the leaves in the South African political teapot. From there the sudden, almost indecent, and feverish haste to complete their nuclear energy procurement deal with South Africa before the end of November – less than a month before the ANC’s elective conference scheduled for mid-December.

The sudden rush, stating with the deployment of self-trained friend and confidant, David Mahlobo, as Minister of Energy, comes after they have spent two decades cultivating the deal that would make South Africa energy-dependent on them. It would also give them the opportunity to tie-up access to other SA strategic natural resources.

For Mr Zuma-himself, his family, and his patronage network there are also much at stake. The comfortable future they have been constructing over many years through intricate deals and strategies could collapse around their ears if he is forced to leave office before the deal is signed and sealed.

Telling timing

Originally Mahlobo set February 2018 as the target date for completion of South Arica’s controversial Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) as blueprint for the country’s energy procurement, including nuclear power generation.

Then suddenly the ‘target’ became a ‘deadline’ for the end of November – to meet the deadline officials of his department were instructed to work just about 24/7.

This begs the question, why the sudden haste that would shave off at most only three months of the original target date.

The only even of any significance during that window-period, that could have influenced the outcome is the December ANC conference.

And, that there is even in the existing Zuma-cabinet not agreement on the nuclear issue, is clear from the fact that Mahlobo’s approach to the matter is at odds with those of the Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba’s pronouncements on the matter in his 25 October medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS).

However, only nine days earlier, on 16 October a Russian delegation representing none less than president Putin visited President Zuma. The very next day there was the cabinet reshuffle in which Mahlobo, with his known Russian connectuis and training was moved from the State Security to the Energy portfolio.

Too late?

However, if Mr Zuma is recalled by the ANC, which looks increasing likely, it might be too late to save the nuclear deal for the Russians – at least for now.

The Western Cape High Court has already ruled that government's previous decision to call for proposals for the procurement of nuclear energy was unlawful. It effectively invalidated the deal previously signed with the Russians by the then Minister Joemat-Petterssonn.

This setback for the Zuma network and the Russians came from a move by the civil society organisation the Faith Community Environmental Initiative group, which took the matter to court. Whatever plans Mahlobo comes up with in his speeded-up with IRP, it is unlikely that the plans with the Russians will be allowed to side-step this determination by the court. If there are attempts to do so, it is sure to be challenged in court again.

Debate not over

As we report elsewhere, stripped of all the allegations of corruption and state capture, the fundamental question whether it is in South Africa’s best interest or not, to include nuclear power in its energy supply chain, is far from settled beyond all doubt – especially as far as the cost involved is concerned.

Apart from the debate on the matter between energy experts and academics, a good number of ANC branches sent motions critical of the costs of nuclear electricity to the ANC’s National Policy Conference earlier this year.

Curiously enough, the conference’s report censored out all these motions of the matter. However, in light of the mentioned court case and further anticipated ‘lawfare’ on its nuclear ambitions, government will have to start the process of identifying potential processes from scratch.

It will have be an open process in which the Russians will have to compete on an equal footing with other contenders like USA, South Korea, France, Japan and China in which has become a highly competitive global market where the appetite for nuclear power has been declining for some time now – the United Kingdom being the only developed county with new plans for a new nuclear power station. 

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by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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