/ 16 September 2016

Editorial: ‘Predatory elite’ eye nuclear deal

Nuclear energy is 16% more expensive than the most expensive type of coal electricity production
Nuclear energy is 16% more expensive than the most expensive type of coal electricity production

The looming nuclear deal that seems to be President Jacob Zuma’s biggest pet project (and will be South Africa’s biggest financial and construction deal ever, if it happens) has been questioned by many commentators, including MPs and civil society groups. The deal, which already has links with Russia’s notoriously oligarchic government, worries anyone who can see in it the largest opportunity yet for the looting of state resources by the group currently devoting all their means to that end.

The nation was told, in the National Assembly, that all the necessary checks would be put in place and that the legal and other hurdles would be diligently cleared before the deal went ahead. The intimation was that any serious obstacles to the deal would come to light and could possibly scupper it entirely – a prospect many would welcome.

But the nation was also told, by a different minister in the other House of Parliament, that it was full steam ahead on the project – with the intimation that no objections would be allowed to stand in its way.

The first utterance came from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who seems to have been given the job of placating the objectors and the intelligentsia, or anyone concerned about the ongoing plans of what unionist Zwelinzima Vavi long ago called “the predatory elite”.

The second utterance came from Zuma’s extremely loyal energy minster, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, so it was to be expected that she would show every sign of wanting to do his bidding as soon as possible.

And, as we report this week, the signs appear to be that it’s the Zuma-Joemat-Pettersson agenda that is forging ahead – and the careful investigation mooted by Ramaphosa will fall by the wayside, obviously simply an effort to quieten the opposition to the nuclear deal.

It has emerged that a contract worth R171-million for a “programme management system” to help get the nuclear deal off the ground has been awarded, in practical secrecy, to a company called Empire Technology. This is wholly owned by Shantan Reddy, the son of controversial businessperson Vivian Reddy, who has given Zuma considerable financial support over the years, including a contribution to the building of the president’s family complex in Nkandla.

That so little is known about the company, and that the deal appears to have gone through so quickly, is cause for concern.

Is the nuclear deal going ahead or not? Will South Africa be taking adequate precautions to ensure that it doesn’t overly indebt the nation? Was the evidence collated and presented to Zuma’s Cabinet? There are no clear answers to any of these questions.

Without a rational and sensible evaluation of the logic of the deal, and an accounting of the costs and benefits to South Africa if it goes ahead, it can’t be seen as much more than another way for the predatory elite to milk money from the state.