Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma on Thursday afternoon vehemently denied in Parliament that he or his family has received any payment related to the nuclear project.
His reply came after Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane asked Zuma if he or any member of his family received any payment for the nuclear deal. Zuma was responding to questions from Members of Parliament.
“I know nothing about the involvement of my family in what you are talking about,” the president said. “Nothing, nothing.”
He confirmed that nuclear is still a definite option for South Africa and repeated his message from the State of the Nation Address that South Africa’s nuclear build programme will roll out at a pace the country could afford.
He said countries with nuclear technology must bid to win the multi-billion contract, referencing rumours that a deal has already been concluded with Russia: “There are no pre-agreements."
Zuma said nuclear would contribute to South Africa’s economy and that it would form part of South Africa’s energy mix.
Apart from being grilled over the nuclear programme, parliamentarians demanded answers on South Africa’s recession and state capture in a tough session for the president.
The government plans to introduce 9.6 MW of nuclear energy in the next decade, in addition to the current Koeberg nuclear station. In December last year Cabinet approved the process for the Department of Energy (DoE) to officially call for the request for proposals, which DoE director general Thabane Zulu said at the time would assist in developing a funding model.
This followed a year of inter-governmental agreements between South Africa and various countries with nuclear capabilities, a process that is legally binding before any contract can be awarded.
But in March the Western Cape High Court set aside the nuclear agreements government signed with vendor countries including Russia, declaring them unlawful and unconstitutional.
Earthlife Africa and the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute won the case after challenging the government’s decision to procure 9.6 MW of nuclear energy.
Controversy around the programme started in 2014, when Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom, prematurely announced it had won the contract, after President Jacob Zuma secretly visited Russia. It later retracted its statement and told Fin24 in 2015 that it was a public relations mistake.
“Controversy over Rosatom's announcement intensified after a local newspaper reported Zuma personally negotiated the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” AFP reported in 2014.
The cost of the programme is estimated to be range from R250bn to R1.5trn.
Nuclear was pushed into the spotlight this week after Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi attended a nuclear conference in Russia, meeting with Russian officials at the same time.
On Wednesday Kubayi drew fire when she tweeted that “the issue of trillion cost is fake news pls ensure reliable sources are used when engaging” in response to EFF parliamentarian Veronica Mente’s criticism on Twitter.
The minister said in Moscow that her department is focused on providing reliable and sustainable electricity supply while reducing South Africa carbon emissions, and that nuclear will play a crucial role in getting the mix right.