Africa’s leading power producer has changed its Energy Minister for the second time in five months… and it seems a plot far more sinister than nametag shuffling is afoot in South Africa. We take a closer look.
President Jacob Zuma’s latest cabinet reshuffle – his 12th since he came into office in 2009 – has been met with widespread condemnation across South African society, with many claiming that it is little more than a ploy to ram through the massively controversial nuclear deal with Russia that hit a High Court roadblock back in April.
In case you missed the news, Mmamoloko Kubayi has been replaced by the former Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo.
This edition of President Zuma’s game of musical chairs at the Energy Ministry comes only months before the much-awaited Integrated Resource Plan and Integrated Energy Plan is due to be finalised, further suggesting that vested interests and the protection of the nuclear agenda are playing a role in cabinet appointments.
Including nuclear power in the energy mix is not controversial in itself; however, the governance practices around such a lucrative deal and subsequent tenders are under scrutiny. There is also the concern that Zuma’s son, Duduzane, and the controversial Gupta-owned Shiva Uranium and Gold mine will directly benefit should the nuclear deal be authorised in its current form.
Let’s unpack some of the issues. With the ANC presidential election around the corner (December 2017), it can be argued that placing Mahlobo close to the heart of the nuclear deal is a desperate move by Zuma to keep his nuclear tender pot of gold firmly within grasp. In the event that former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does not win the ANC presidential election, there is a very real risk that Zuma could be ousted as state president.
But why move Kubayi, who is also touted as a Zuma-supporter, out of this lucrative department?
At this point, it is necessary to point out that Mahlobo (Minister of State Security at the time) accompanied the president on an official visit to Russia in 2014, leaving Tina Joemat-Pettersson (the then Energy Minister) out of the picture. And since the Western Cape High Court’s ruling has set the process back to square-one, Mahlobo, who was privy to the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is now the most trusted Zuma ally to literally push the deal through.
The reshuffle is not to say that Kubayi was not doing her job as energy minister or that she isn’t firmly in the Zuma-camp; but it could be that things were not progressing as smoothly or quickly as was anticipated at the time of her placement.
In fact, towards the end of June, Kubayi declared that South Africa remained committed to rollout the nuclear energy expansion in its current form as outlined in the country’s Integrated Resource Plan. She also met with Russia’s minister of energy for the Russian Federation, Alexander Novak, where they discussed various options in the nuclear and energy space.
However, Kubayi’s approach to the nuclear deal may have been too cautious for the president’s liking and was probably based on her predecessor’s fate. Former energy minister Joemat-Pettersson’s actions were declared unlawful and unconstitutional by the High Court. Kubayi even went so far as to say that she “didn’t want to see herself in prison”.
Now at a Parliamentary Committee meeting on Wednesday (which is investigating state-owned enterprises and the involvement of the Gupta family) and in response to a question on whether it is beneficial to build new nuclear power stations in South Africa, the former CEO of Eskom, Brian Molefe, emphatically stated that not only were the power plants unnecessary, they were also too expensive.
Yet, Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) granting Eskom environmental approval to construct a new nuclear power plant and associated infrastructure at the Duynefontein site in the Western Cape indicates that plans for the build continue to roll forward.
As more controversy unfolds, is South Africa’s new nuclear build programme doomed to remain an extravagant exercise to manipulate the country at the expensive of its tax payers?