‘Nuke deal would have fixed SA’s energy mess’
We would have actually saved trillions - and, besides, the Russians proved they were trustworthy during the struggle, he says
Former president Jacob Zuma says a nuclear deal with Russia would have solved SA’s energy crisis – and he denies that its R1-trillion cost would have crippled the economy.
“I think we are going to pay trillions of rands because of the problems of energy,” he said in an interview this week.
“But if we went for nuclear, we will be out of spending trillions for a shorter amount of time, and we’ll make more trillions. So, the truth is the opposite.”
Former finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan were among many witnesses at the Zondo state capture inquiry who raised serious concerns about the potential cost to SA’s economy if the nuclear deal with Russia was concluded.
Nene said he believed he was axed as finance minister in 2015 for refusing to endorse the $100bn deal, which he said he would have cost the equivalent of 90% of the country’s budget in 2018’s fiscal year.
He testified that he was pressured by Zuma and then energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson to sign off on the deal, despite there being no information on the financial implications, funding model and risk-mitigation strategies.
Zuma said: “The fact of the matter is nuclear could solve our problems, once and for all. Now we are in deep, we are therefore increasing the debt of the country with no hope to bring it down. That’s a problem. Nuclear, we could have got into whatever expenses, but we would have been able, even through it, to have more funds to pay our debts.”
He admitted he pushed for SA to conclude the nuclear deal during his term, but said the government had commissioned a number of studies that justified it. He insisted that a deal with Rosatom would have been in SA’s best interests.
“Some of the countries, when we were looking for this, I compared their offers. Their offers were very limited. Russia was offering more things, including preparing our people to run our own (nuclear plants). I made very serious comparisons,” he said.
Zuma denied that he or the ANC were bribed to do a deal with Russian nuclear agency Rosatom.
“I don’t know how many times people have said Zuma is corrupt. They have not produced a single cent of that nature. It’s just propaganda, clear propaganda.”
SA’s current energy crisis, Zuma said, “is partly because we have been hesitating. For example, we blocked this one [the Russian nuclear deal], which is clean energy, that is in agreement with global policy and the approach of not polluting”.
“Our delaying this, is causing problems of how do we handle the current energy crisis.”
He said ongoing debates about the potential privatisation of Eskom, and the use of independent power producers, “does not help”.
“It makes the problem remain in the same place.”
So why was he so intent on a deal with Russia rather than other countries?
Zuma maintained that Russia proved it was trustworthy during its support of the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle, by providing education, training, weapons, food and healthcare to ANC comrades in exile in the country.
“Russia carried the biggest load in supporting us. Russia looked after our health, they never charged us a penny. So we cannot, when we are now free, forget about people who were our friends at the time of need.”
He added that Russia would not have taken harsh action against SA if it defaulted on repaying the funding for nuclear power plants.
“They would not come for us. They would understand, we would have an agreement to work out another arrangement. Others will come for us, will force us to go to some financial thing so that they suck our funds forever.
“We know they are trusted people. We know they will never sink us, they will lift us.”