The three ministries with the most critical impact on the energy sector have all been affected, significantly increasing the chances of the country opting for a highly controversial nuclear energy programme.
In the energy portfolio, former minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has been replaced by cabinet newcomer Nkhensani Kubayi. The minister’s removal might have been driven by her recent passivity around the nuclear build. The second ministry affected is Public Enterprises, which supervises the state electricity utility Eskom, and has a new deputy minister.
But the most crucial change is in the National Treasury which is now in the hands of two perceived Zuma loyalists. Malusi Gigaba, former home affairs minister, is the new finance minister and Sifiso Buthelezi his deputy.
Former finance minister Gordhan had been under particularly severe attack from Zuma supporters for his reluctance to endorse excessive expenditure demands. He was viewed as a stumbling block by those that stood to benefit from mega-projects. The biggest of these is the R1 trillion nuclear new build.
The cabinet reshuffle can therefore be viewed as a desperate bid by the Zuma faction, and associated beneficiaries such as the Gupta family, to drive the pro-nuclear agenda. The expectation is that the nuclear procurement plan will now receive the National Treasury’s blessing and will be given the go-ahead. This is despite the dangerous financial burden it would impose on the country, and the massive resultant debt repayment obligations.
Nuclear versus renewable debate
When the plan to develop a 9.6 GW nuclear production capability was first mooted in 2011, it didn’t seem to be a particularly bad idea. But the scheme rapidly became controversial. The Russian nuclear industry with businesses linked to a faction within the ANC started to exert excessive influence on key people in government, and Zuma in particular, to force through the nuclear build. The faction was most visibly represented by “tenderpreneurs” – business people who enrich themselves through government tenders, often dubiously.
The pro-nuclear lobby soon began to attack on a second front, directing their energies at South Africa’s burgeoning renewable energy industry. The country could rightfully boast that its renewable energy programme, started in 2012, was hugely successful. Driven by the Department of Energy, it had seen multiple medium-scale wind and solar energy farms springing up all around South Africa....