PR bungle blamed for SA nuclear deal confusion
Matthew le Cordeur
Moscow - The public relations surrounding the announcement of South Africa's framework agreement with Rosatom in 2014 was not handled correctly, sources in Russia said this week.
Russia is not the only country in the running to win South Africa's Nuclear Build Programme, which would bring 9 600 MW into Eskom's electricity mix.
France, South Korea, China and the US have since signed similar agreements with South Africa, a prerequisite before the vendor process, which is expected to be complete on March 31 2016.
However, as the first country to sign, it appears the Russians may have been a little "aggressive" in the wording of their announcement.
Sources told a delegation of South African media that Russia had not signed any secret nuclear deal, but conceded that the way the announcement was made resulted in speculation that it was a "done deal", which they say is far from the truth.
"Instead of asking why the Russian agreement is so much more detailed than the other countries, maybe you should be asking why the other country's agreements were not as detailed as ours," said one source, who wished to remain anonymous.
At the time of the announcement, energy experts and politicians were shocked that a "deal" had been struck without going through the due process.
"They jumped the gun," a senior South African government source, who is part of the country's delegation to an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna, told Reuters in September 2014.
"My suspicion is Rosatom are talking up their side and it has been very badly handled by our government," the opposition Democratic Alliance's Lance Greyling said at the time.
"It is also worrying that the announcement first came from Rosatom. It suggests backroom deals going on."
Department of Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson apparently signed the agreement in Vienna on September 21 2014, a few weeks after President Jacob Zuma met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia.
These doings created speculation that the South African government would opt for Russian technology to be used for new nuclear power stations. At the time voices of concern were raised because of what could have been seen as an attempt to avoid open and competitive tendering as required by the Constitution.
Rosatom and the energy department tried to defuse the situation, but a sense of suspicion and mistrust has prevailed, with fears of a repeat of the Arms Deal still fresh in everyone's minds.
We might never know for certain if such a secret deal was made and unintentionally announced by Russia.
However, one consequence of that bad day in the PR office is that it might have "frightened off the competition".
In February 2015, however, the Mail & Guardian found the Russian's agreement on their foreign ministry website and wrote a story titled: Scary details of SA's secret Russian nuke deal. The article stated:
"Once the agreement comes into force, the Russians will have a veto over South Africa doing business with any other nuclear vendor. And it will be binding for a minimum of 20 years, during which Russia can hold a gun to South Africa’s head, in effect saying: 'Do business with us, or forget nuclear.'"
* Rosatom covered the travelling costs for the delegation of journalists.