Zuma can’t afford to let nuclear go: analyst

The recent high court ruling that South Africa’s nuclear procurement processes are unconstitutional has put a massive hurdle in president Jacob Zuma’s plans – but while it is seen as positive outcome for the country, it will also intensify the ANC succession race as the nuclear story now looks likely to fall outside Zuma’s term as president.

This is according to research analyst at Nomura, Peter Attard Montalto, who described the high court’s ruling as “surprising” and “wide-ranging”. In Nomura’s baseline forecast for nuclear energy in South Africa, the group always foresaw legal troubles which would likely bring the programme to a halt.

However, the recent court ruling brought this scenario in earlier than expected, Attard Montalto said, and even with likely appeals from the state, could set the Zuma government’s plans for nuclear back by years – taking immediate pressure off National Treasury.

This week, the high court issued a major ruling in favour of Earthlife Africa (ELA) and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), setting aside the nuclear deal between South Africa and Russia with immediate effect.

ELA and SAFCEI argued that the processes followed by government and Eskom leading up to the decision to sign agreements with Russia, and the Section 34 Determination to procure nuclear power, were illegal and not in line with constitutionally sound administrative decision-making.

“The Zuma faction is under pressure to show progress on nuclear procurement, and we think it was a key contributing factor to Nenegate and the recent reshuffle,” Attard Montalto said.

“An appeal may take three to six months, however, and there are multiple levels – through the Supreme Court of Appeal and then the Constitutional Court. In total, an appeals process could last well over a year.”

However, the nuclear issue cannot be dead here, he said.

“The stakes politically and geopolitically for the government, and specifically for President Zuma, are simply too high. So much has been invested in terms of political capital, including two reshuffles. We therefore fully expect the government to continue to push down this road.”

According to Attard Montalto, the stakes are now even higher for the ANC succession battle at the end of the year.

Previously, the road to nuclear was seen as simply needing continuity from President Zuma to his own faction (and most likely Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) – now, however, the process of actual nuclear procurement may extend beyond his term.

The ruling also shows that South Africa’s judiciary remain independent, but also highlights the risks it faces – particularly when Zuma’s preferred candidate, Dlamini-Zuma, recently said the use of the courts to override the will of the government ‘should be looked at’.

Read: Eskom may have paid millions to keep anti-nuclear research groups quiet: report

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Zuma can’t afford to let nuclear go: analyst