In this extract from a new book by investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh, he lays bare the Gupta family’s and Duduzane Zuma’s investment in uranium mining – and how it coincides with the involvement of the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corpor
An interesting aspect of the Guptas’ acquisition of the Dominion uranium mine is the tangential involvement of Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation Rosatom in Uranium One.
Rosatom has become inextricably linked to fears that South Africa’s pending nuclear power plant expansion programme is drenched in large-scale corruption.
In June 2009, as the Guptas’ Oakbay Resources and Energy was wrapping up its purchase agreement with Uranium One to buy the Dominion mine, Rosatom mining subsidiary AtomRedMetZoloto (ARMZ Uranium Holding Co) obtained 16.6% of Uranium One.
The transaction would be the start of ARMZ’s wholesale takeover of the company.
In 2010, ARMZ became the majority shareholder in Uranium One, before buying all of the Canadian company’s remaining shares in 2013.
In other words, the Guptas’ purchase of the Dominion mine from Uranium One coincided with Rosatom’s drive to become the sole shareholder of Uranium One.
What this means is that Rosatom and the Guptas, in all likelihood, became acquainted with one another sometime during 2009, which happened to be President Jacob Zuma’s first year in office.
And as we all know, under Zuma’s rule the South African government reignited its plans for investing in new nuclear power plants.
At the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Zuma told delegates: “With financial and technical support from developed countries, South Africa ... will be able to reduce [carbon] emissions by 34% below ‘business-as-usual’ levels by 2020 and by 42% by 2025.”
According to the Rand Daily Mail, “his announcement took both local and international commentators by surprise, but it revealed Zuma’s nuclear ambitions”.
His ambitions were confirmed in 2011 when then energy minister Dipuo Peters announced that government planned to issue a tender for the construction of six new nuclear power plants.
It was subsequently widely reported that the programme could cost the country as much as R1 trillion, leading critics to ask how South Africa would afford it.
Zuma’s government did not seem to share concerns over the affordability of the new nuclear power plants. In September 2014, Rosatom announced that it had signed a “strategic partnership” agreement with the South African government that ensured the country would use Russian reactors in the upcoming build programme.
Seeing as government had been nowhere near to starting a competitive bid process for the nuclear contract, as is required by the South African Constitution, Rosatom’s announcement shocked and angered the nation. The outrage was so immense that both Rosatom and the South African government later backtracked on the announcement, claiming that government would sign similar agreements with other potential bidders.
But the damage had been done. Today, many South Africans remain highly suspicious of government’s plans to build the nuclear plants, especially when it comes to Rosatom’s possible participation in the programme.
However, if the deal does finally go ahead, the demand for uranium in South Africa will certainly climb to unprecedented heights. The Guptas’ Shiva Uranium – in which Duduzane Zuma has a sizeable stake – will be perfectly positioned to supply government with uranium for the new power plants.
Critics of the pending nuclear power programme have openly asked whether the Zuma administration’s enthusiasm for nuclear power is not perhaps rooted in the fact that the president’s son and the Guptas stand to benefit from it.
Veteran journalist Allister Sparks was but one of many who believe the Guptas are behind Zuma’s nuclear ambitions. “Nuclear power stations require enriched uranium to operate and, with advance knowledge of the president’s intentions (Duduzane surely told his partners what daddy was up to), the Guptas stood to make a killing,” Sparks wrote in Business Day in 2016.
As long as the Gupta–Zuma network remains intact, the potential disaster of a financially crippling nuclear deal remains on the horizon.
The Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, Penguin Random House, 308 pages, R260