Members of former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet were hostile towards Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene after he refused to approve a controversial nuclear deal, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Wednesday.
During his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Nene detailed how pressure to approve a R1.6-trillion nuclear deal led to his firing.
Preparations for the nuclear build programme began in 2011 and in 2013 the department of energy provided treasury a draft feasibility study on the programme. According to Nene, upon reviewing the study, it became apparent to him that the “costs associated with it [the programme] are astronomical”.
The deal was to be awarded to Russia’s Rosatom.
In 2014, the then minister of energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced that Russia and South Africa had signed an intergovernmental framework agreement, which laid the foundation for the nuclear deal.
Nene continued to opposed the deal on the basis of its possible financial implications.
During a meeting at a 2015 Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) summit in Ufa, Russia, Zuma allegedly scolded Nene for failing to finalise the financial aspects of the deal.
“Mr Zuma said he was not happy that I was not doing what I was supposed to have done a long time ago so that he could have something to present when he meets President Putin for their one-on-one meeting,” Nene said.
Nene said he was seen as “the person standing in the way of the nuclear deal” and was effectively accused of insubordination by his colleagues, including Joemat-Pettersson.
He pointed to then international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and then state security minister David Mahlobo as being hostile towards him.
“They wanted me to sign and felt that it was not right that the issues of the nuclear deal had not been finalised,” Nene said.
Nene’s name was first raised in the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — during the course of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas’s testimony in August.
Jonas alleged that during his time as deputy finance minister he attended a clandestine meeting in October 2015 at the Saxonwold residence of the politically connected Gupta family. During the course of the meeting, Gupta patriarch, Ajay, allegedly offered Jonas the position of finance minister and a R600-million bribe in exchange for his co-operation in the family’s business affairs.
Nene was the finance minister at the time. On December 9 2015, he was fired from the position during a Cabinet reshuffle and replaced by ANC backbencher Des van Rooyen.
Nene’s axing — and his subsequent replacement by Van Rooyen — coincided with the night the nuclear deal was approved by Cabinet.