ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe allegedly “pleaded” with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema to help him scupper President Jacob Zuma’s Gupta-linked nuclear plans when they met to discuss post-municipal election coalitions.
In a recorded interview, conducted under oath with then public protector Thuli Madonsela concerning her probe into state capture, Malema spoke of a meeting he had had with Mantashe and at least two other EFF colleagues during the August municipal coalition talks.
Mantashe has denied Malema’s allegations.
Malema told Madonsela in the September 22 interview that the ANC boss pleaded with the EFF to include the scrapping of nuclear projects as part of its conditions for a coalition with the ANC – because the ANC was worried that government was desperate to ram the deal through at a huge cost to the fiscus, and it was likely to result in the country’s collapse.
“When we were discussing the coalitions the first person we met with was Gwede Mantashe, alone,” said Malema.
“It was me, Dali [Mpofu, the EFF’s national chairperson], Floyd [Shivambu, the EFF’s deputy president] and, I think, Mbuyiseni [Ndlozi, the EFF’s national spokesperson] was there. And then we put the conditions … of working with the ANC.”
He went on to say: “Gwede asked us confidentially: ‘Please put the nuclear deal as part of your conditions’ … And we asked him: ‘Why should we put nuclear?’ And he said: ‘The nuclear deal is going to collapse the country.’”
In its talks with the ANC, the EFF placed the removal of Zuma, the nationalisation of some key industries, the expropriation of land, an inquiry into the Guptas and the scrapping of the nuclear deal as among its preconditions for cooperation. The ANC refused to budge on most of these as they had nothing to do with local government.
There has been much controversy over an alleged undertaking by South Africa to allow the Russians to run the country’s nuclear power programme.
This was fuelled by Zuma’s “mysterious” six-day visit to Russia in August 2014.
Malema’s allegations indicate serious concerns in the ANC’s senior ranks about Zuma’s personal interests in the nuclear deal.
Government wants to add at least eight nuclear reactors, generating 9 600 megawatts, to its grid.
The average amount of time it takes to construct a nuclear power station is 10 years.
Government wants the first reactor to start generating power from 2023, and for all of them to be complete by 2029. The cost of the programme is likely to exceed R1 trillion.
Opposition parties and civil society groupings have contended that one of the reasons for the sudden axing of then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene last December was his refusal to endorse the deal.
The EFF told the then public protector that Nene was reluctant to approve the country’s nuclear deal, which Zuma wanted expedited so that he could benefit before the end of his presidency.
According to Malema, “Gwede said the Russians have got a deal with these guys [Zuma and the Guptas].
They have confirmed the deal and they have paid in advance. And that is why these guys are under huge pressure to deliver the nuclear deal.”
The EFF leader said that he later revealed the information to the media “with authority, because it came from the ANC”.
The party then added the nuclear aspect to its demands.
“It became part of our conditions … That is why Gwede pleaded with me, [saying] that: ‘When you are angry you must not repeat this thing and mention my name, please.’”
In the recording, Madonsela can be heard giggling before she says: “And now you are doing it.”
To which a chuckling Malema responds: “No, I’m under oath now. There is nothing I can do. And you know, it ends here. It is your stuff. It is not public here.”
Asked whether Mantashe would be comfortable to share what he knew about the nuclear deal, Malema said it was possible that he could speak if it were clear that the discussion was confidential.
“Yeah, I mean you ought to make him feel comfortable to that extent … Make him aware that whatever he says is within [your private domain]. I think if he is made to feel comfortable, he will share a lot of information on nuclear”.
Mantashe said on Friday that he had never received communication from Madonsela about the nuclear deal or the role of Zuma, the Guptas and the Russians.
He said he was one of “a few people who have no problems with nuclear energy”.
“If you develop nuclear at a pace and a cost that the country can afford, I have no problem. We need nuclear, but we cannot go for it boots and all,” he said.
Mantashe told City Press that “the reality of the matter is that I would not formulate demands for the EFF to the ANC”.
“As a matter of fact, I cannot. It is the EFF that demanded we remove Zuma and so forth. I cannot formulate demands to them.”
“For example, if the Russians have already paid and I am not part of that, how would I know that? Because the next thing, I imagine, you would ask me [would be] how much the Russians have paid and to whom.
“How would I know how much and who they paid, and to do what?”
Mantashe admitted to having had a meeting alone with the EFF leaders, but said Malema’s claims were false and intended to divide the ANC.
Malema said he stood by everything that he told Madonsela and he was “not going to engage in public mud-slinging with Gwede”.
“I did an interview with the [then] public protector. That is it. I am no longer going to engage on that thing. That is me [in the recording]. The person you hear there is me,” he said.
In the interview, Malema also told Madonsela that while he did not have details on the alleged advance payment made to Zuma by the Russians, it was clear the president was “under pressure” to deliver the nuclear deal.
“And you cannot be under pressure if you did not take people’s money. You can just tell them that it is not working. Because the reality of the situation is that nuclear is going to cost us trillions,” Malema told Madonsela.
He observed that “the nature of government spending is such that if it was to cost us R1 trillion, it will end up costing us R7 trillion.
And in servicing that, it means the whole fiscus will have to be directed to the nuclear deal.
That is how Gwede pleaded with us that the immediate threat we need to stop is this nuclear – because it will collapse this country.”
Malema said Zuma’s desperation was evident in the decision to fire former finance minister Nene “because he was not prepared to sign the deal”.
Yet, added Malema, despite Zuma having come under fire for Nene’s dismissal, “he is still insisting on capturing this department”.
Referring to Zuma, Malema said: “This thing is costing you your career. Everybody is on your case because you want to take this department.
Somebody else would have let go. But it would not be easy to let go if you have taken people’s money. So they are desperately looking for the deal to go through.”
He is also recorded as saying he had information from Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas that Zuma had sought legal opinion on the desirability of moving the nuclear programme from the department of energy to the security cluster.
Treasury spokesperson Yolisa Tyantsi said:
“National Treasury does not have any knowledge of the issue and has never been part of such discussions.”
Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said that, “as announced by the minister of finance in the medium-term budget, the scale and phases of the nuclear power programme as well as the procurement arrangements will be conducted in a manner that best serves South Africa’s interests and will also be transparent and compliant with the law”.[Source: news24]