Zuma obsessed with Russian nuclear deal, Gordhan tells Zondo inquiry

19 November 2018 - 16:45 By Amil Umraw
BLF (in black) and EFF (in red) demonstrated during Pravin Gordhan's testimony at the state capture commission in Parktown, Johannesburg, on November 19 2018.
BLF (in black) and EFF (in red) demonstrated during Pravin Gordhan's testimony at the state capture commission in Parktown, Johannesburg, on November 19 2018.
Image: Alaister Russell

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan said securing a nuclear procurement deal became then-president Jacob Zuma’s central focus after he was re-elected in 2014.  

Gordhan, who was describing his former stint as finance minister to the state capture inquiry on Monday, said the implications for South Africans should the deal have gone through would have been “quite serious”.

He said it became evident that the former president and the department of energy were pursuing the controversial 2011 deal with the Russians at all costs.

The nuclear build programme was put on ice after Earthlife Africa and the Southern Africa Faith-Communities' Environmental Institute mounted a successful court challenge to the way in which the state determined the country's nuclear power needs.

The plan would have seen South Africa building nuclear power stations to secure 9,600 megawatts of extra electrical power at a cost of about R1-trillion.

In 2014 the energy department announced Russian state-owned operator Rosatom as the preferred bidder of the nuclear build programme, but was forced to do an about-turn after a public outcry about such a mega-deal not going to tender.

Gordhan, who openly opposed the nuclear spend, was fired as finance minister in March 2017. He said the deal was simply unaffordable.

"This project became quite central for whatever reason. The cost implications for South Africans as a whole could have been quite serious," he said.

He said the country's entire budget for the 2011/12 fiscal year was less than R1-trillion.

Gordhan described a meeting with Zuma in 2013 to discuss the deal.

He said in the meeting that Zuma explained the "importance of more nuclear power" and it was agreed that the national treasury would work with the energy department to detail the project and its funding model.

Gordhan’s then-successor in the finance ministry, Nhlanhla Nene, previously testified at the inquiry that he was accused of "insubordination" because of his refusal to sign a letter committing to the nuclear deal.

Nene said he was pressured by Zuma and then-energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson into signing off on the deal despite there being no information on the financial implications and funding model.

During his testimony at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture on November 19 2018, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan relayed incidents that led him and other concerned parties into questioning the actions of the powers that be, and to try and reconstruct when the alleged state capture began.


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