Jacob Zuma’s secrecy state

2014-09-28 15:00

When South Africans wanted details of President Jacob Zuma’s mysterious “rest and relaxation” visit to Russia last month, the response from the highest office was dismissive.

The presidency in effect told us it was none of the citizenry’s business what the head of state was doing during his week in Russia. And so he just vanished, as if quietly climbing out of MaKhumalo’s bed and sneaking off to MaNtuli’s rondavel in the middle of the night.

We never did get an answer in the end. Zuma returned and went on with his business. It was just another day, just another week in the life of the increasingly secretive Zuma state.

This week we got another taste of the secretive state. Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson sprung the news upon us that South Africa and Russia had signed a deal for the latter nation’s Rosatom corporation to provide up to eight nuclear reactors for South Africa by 2023.

In a joint statement with Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, she said this deal “opens the door for South Africa to access Russian technologies, funding, infrastructure, and provides a solid platform for future extensive collaboration”.

Within hours, confusion reigned when Joemat-Pettersson’s own department and the Nuclear Energy Association of SA contradicted the announcement, saying this was a mere “country-to-country framework agreement” which could possibly pave the way for a future deal.

In the context of Joemat-Pettersson and Kiriyenko’s unequivocal statement, it was clear this was just lousy spin. A deal has secretly been reached with the Russians?–?and this is in violation of the legal and constitutional requirements of transparency.

The cloak-and-dagger manner in which this transaction has been stitched together is not only illegal, it is also deeply immoral. The proposed nuclear build programme is set to cost more than R1?trillion and will tie future generations into debt for decades.

As such, it needs to be conducted and concluded with maximum transparency?– with the participation of the public, the national legislature and other constitutionally empowered oversight bodies.

South Africans need to be able to ask if it fits in with policy directives, the National Development Plan, environmental and safety regulations, and if we are getting value for money.

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