South Africa
Is Zuma’s nuclear gamble still in play?

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement last week had one simple message: we are drowning in debt.

So it wasn’t surprising when he said the proposed nuclear build being pushed so vociferously by President Jacob Zuma was “unaffordable”.

Gigaba said there was no room for nuclear in South Africa’s current budget, and that the nuclear plan would be reviewed once a new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) provided further clarity.

It was curious then to hear new Minister of Energy David Mahlobo, another staunch Zuma ally, saying afterwards that the numbers in the budget policy statement were “speculation” and that in fact there was finality regarding the nuclear build. What he was saying was that it would proceed.

So who to believe – Mahlobo or Gigaba? This contradiction indicates clearly the incoherence that has become characteristic of the latter years of the Zuma administration. Zuma after all operates in the shadows.

Sowing the seeds of doubt regarding the nuclear deal with Russia is intended to muddy the waters and avoid clarity and thus the inevitable push back from civil society.

It is obvious from the recent cabinet reshuffle that Zuma will rely on Mahlobo to push through the nuclear deal. There are a few challenges however.

First, Gigaba has to find the money; and second, there is the judgment of the Western Cape High Court, and a watchful civil society.

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