The former president has reportedly even claimed that Russia would have been ‘understanding’ in the event we couldn’t repay the R1 trillion.
A defiant former president Jacob Zuma said in an interview with Times Select this week that he had been correct to push as hard as he did for a nuclear deal with Russia to go through.
One of the first steps President Cyril Ramaphosa and his choice of energy minister, Jeff Radebe, took after coming to power in the wake of Zuma’s resignation was to put the brakes on further talk of nuclear with Brics partner Russia, citing affordability concerns.
Radebe has, however, said that nuclear remains an important consideration in trying to secure South Africa’s energy security.
In his interview with Karyn Maughan, Zuma in effect admitted to having been deeply committed to Russia’s nuclear energy company Rosatom. They would have built South Africa’s first new nuclear power plant, or plants, since democracy because the then president had made “very serious comparisons” among the countries offering nuclear, and Russia was “offering more things”, he said.
Several experts had, however, warned at the time that the proposed nuclear build programme would have cost the country R1 trillion or more, and former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene has said under oath that he believed he was fired in 2015 because of his reluctance to sign off on the huge expense.
His surprise axing plunged the economy into crisis in December of that year.
Although the former president did not admit directly to the nuclear deal being the reason he had made a number of controversial cabinet reshuffles – especially for the critical finance and energy portfolios – the recent bad news on load shedding appeared to have emboldened Zuma to claim that he had been acting in South Africa’s best interests all along.
He opined that nuclear would have been a cleaner and more reliable form of energy and that, even if South Africa may have struggled to repay the massive debt to Russia, the ANC’s former apartheid-era communist ally would supposedly have been “understanding” about it.
Russia would never have forced South Africa to have to approach “some financial thing” for a loan (Zuma has in the past hinted at deep criticism of US-based global monetary organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the three primary ratings agencies).
“We know they (Russia) are trusted people. We know they will never sink us. They will lift us,” he reportedly said.
He further claimed that the nuclear deal would have permanently solved South Africa’s energy problems.
“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.”
The #statecaptureinquiry has heard that former finance minister Pravin Gordhan warned Jacob Zuma, the nuclear deal could bring about corruption that would make the arms deal lool like child's play. @ermbates #MorningNewsToday Courtesy #DStv403 pic.twitter.com/LEmxDn7rnA
— eNCA (@eNCA) February 19, 2019