'Mahlobo in oil talks with Senegal's Sall, not Russia's Putin over nuclear'

David Mahlobo.
David Mahlobo.

Cape Town – Energy Minister David Mahlobo was part of President Jacob Zuma’s delegation that met the Senegalese government on Tuesday and was not meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, as speculated by an MP.

This is according to Deputy Energy Minister Thembisile Majola, who was responding to Inkatha Freedom Party MP Jan Esterhuizen in Parliament on Tuesday, where Mahlobo was not present.

The Sunday Times reported this weekend that Mahlobo was appointed energy minister in last week’s Cabinet reshuffle at the behest of Putin, as Russia allegedly saw the former intelligence minister as more likely to succeed in pushing through the nuclear deal at a faster pace.

The media report forms part of the unproven allegation that Zuma (and possibly the ANC) was bribed billions by the Russians to award them a nuclear new build tender worth between R820bn and R1.2trn (depending on opposing viewpoints on the price).

Zuma's spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga on Tuesday denied that Zuma was influenced by Russia into making Cabinet changes, calling such reports "classic fake news".  
"The allegation that President Jacob Zuma met with a Russian delegation prior to making changes to the National Executive is false and is nothing else but information peddling," he said.  "No such meeting took place on Monday last week with either the President or anyone representing him."

The Russian Embassy in South Africa denied it had a hand in SA's most recent Cabinet reshuffle, saying the reports were "fake news", "slanderous" and "tabloid-grade".

The nuclear energy procurement process was cancelled by a court this year, stalling government's desire to start building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Mahlobo, who is the third energy minister since the court decision in April, has already spoken ambitiously about South Africa’s nuclear energy plans twice in his first week in office.

Mahlobo, Zuma meet Senegalese

The deputy minister’s response regarding Mahlobo occurred at Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy, where the department was answering questions about its first-quarter performance report for 2017/18.

“The minister is with the president in Cape Town, where they are meeting the delegation from Senegal,” she said, directing her answer to Esterhuizen. “He is not meeting Mr Putin.”

Majola said the minister was hard at work, as Senegal has “huge oil reserves”, which South Africa has an interest in.

The Presidency sent Fin24 Zuma’s written speech following his bilateral discussions with Senegalese President Macky Sall on Tuesday. Zuma did not mention oil, instead focusing on the two countries’ growing tourism partnership, following a recently signed memorandum of understanding.

On business relations, Zuma said: “We reaffirmed the strategic relations that exist between our sister republics and committed ourselves to working together to enhance close political, economic and social cooperation in keeping with a mutual desire to establish a special relationship between the two countries.”

Senegalese oil discoveries

The meeting comes a day after the start of the Africa Oil Week in Cape Town.

Here, Mahlobo told delegates on Monday that there is “growing optimism about the potential of Africa’s oil and gas development given the sustained increase in crude oil prices”.

However, he didn’t mention Senegal when he said: “South Africa has also started strategic engagements with oil producing countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco and South Sudan, with an economic objective to sustain our security supply.”

According to Africa Oil Week, while Senegal has yet to enter oil production, international oil companies are delving into its on- and offshore acreage.

“The biggest oil discovery since 2014, the SNE Deepwater Field, was found in Senegalese waters – and so far Cairn, ConocoPhillips, FAR, and stated-owned PetroSen have begun drilling work there,” it said.  

PetroSen’s exploration and production director Joseph Medou is attending the conference, where he is giving deeper market insights into Senegal's oil market.

*This article was updated on October 24 at 18:05 to reflect a statement by President Zuma's spokesperson. 

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