The onslaught on South Africa’s nuclear build programme has the influence of external powers, writes SIYABONGA P. HADEBE
On Wednesday, 26 April the Western Cape High Court ruled that the South African government’s nuclear plans are invalid and unconstitutional. Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the South African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute brought the case in 2015.
As part of the state’s intentions of massively expanding and modernising its electricity generation capacity, the government announced the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which aims to increase total capacity from 42,000 MW to 85,000 MW in 2030. Of this, the IRP makes provision for an additional 9600 MW of nuclear energy by 2030.
Government always maintained that its nuclear build programme will “be rolled out at a scale and pace that the country can afford.”
Nonetheless, the government started a lengthy process of kickstarting the development of nuclear power plants. Amongst, the alleged suitors, Russia’s Rosatom was said to be in line to be awarded a lucrative multi-billion dollar contract to build the new reactors.
But government came out to say that it had not signed a deal with anyone, including the Russians.
Notwithstanding the government’s statements, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, among others, opposed the planned nuclear build. They cited issues of cost as the main reason for their objection.
Others argued that massive state projects such as the arms deal, etolls and the FIFA World Cup were wrought with corruption, secrecy and scandals.
Once bitten, twice shy.
The court application against the nuclear build and processes must be understood against this background. Not that government had signed any contract with a foreign supplier.
In recent years though there is a move to limit government’s ability to enter into international agreements of whatever nature. The pressure groups insist that the government should consult widely to obtain a “buy-in” from stakeholders.
In terms of the law, this requirement is normally applicable to legislative processes BUT the current view is that international agreements commit the country, sometimes to huge financial and political implications. The issue of Sudanese president and imported chickens come to mind.
Under normal circumstances, bi-and multilateral agreements require a “blessing” from state international law specialists to verify their alignment with both local law and international commitments and conventions. Thereafter, the president would give approval through what is called a “Presidential Minute” (authorisation) before the agreement with a foreign state or entity is signed.
Section 231 of the Constitution deals with all issues pertaining to international agreements.
Going back to the nuclear build and possible partnering with foreign suppliers, it is quite strange that the likes of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the South African Faith Communities, as well as political parties, decided to take the matter to court.
Whereas the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change went through without any opposition, other issues seem to be a problem. In fact, the public is not even aware of the Paris Agreement and its potential negative effects on the electricity generation in SA.
The G7-sponsored climate change agenda seeks to annihilate use of coal resources for energy generation. A few years ago, developed states, including the G7 and OECD (with the exception of Japan) agreed to oppose any further investments coal-fired power stations.
Of course, this was before Donald Trump emerged to sign executive orders to stimulate development of coal mining, shale and gas and other hydrocarbons.
Silly enough. South African political parties and NGOs want to block the nuclear build while at the same time liking the global climate agenda. In a country that gets over 80% of its electricity from coal, one would think that we would be much more updated on international developments in the sphere of energy.
I have low appetite for conspiracies. However, my gut feel tells me that the onslaught on the nuclear build programme has influence of external powers written all over it. Yes, l concede that the local opponents have tabled what appears to be noble and logical reasons and arguments.
Past experience has taught us that geopolitical rivalries spread to affect every aspect of our lives.
South Africa now swims with the sharks!
Hadebe holds qualifications in management and global affairs. His interests are politics, economics and international affairs.