What Brian Molefe did NOT say in his defence of the Guptas and nuclear

By Wayne Duvenage

This article appeared in the Daily Maverick

Recently, at Eskom’s press conference on their financial results early in July 2016, Brian Molefe posed two important questions to the media:

  1. Why is Africa opposed to nuclear energy, why should it stop at renewables?
  2. Why have the major South African Banks decided not to allow the Guptas/Oakbay to bank with them?

These questions, which have been on the minds of many a concerned South African citizen, presented Molefe with a great opportunity to share his wisdom and some inspirational leadership, which one expects from a person in his position. Sadly it was not to be and he chose instead not to take the opportunity to convince the public as to why the nuclear energy option was the best way forward for the country, and why it will be worth spending hundreds of billions of rand on a deal when some of the leading thinkers on energy policy believe that government’s nuclear energy plan makes no economic sense. He chose instead to be condescending, belittling and threatening to the media.

The debate on nuclear energy stretches far and wide, and one would have imagined Molefe might have made reference to a technical workshop on the Economics of Nuclear Energy held on the 9 March 2016 by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA), the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS), the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) and the Goedgedacht.

Some of the key highlights from the report emanating from that conference were:

  • The nuclear industry globally remains in decline and this is not post Fukushima, as nuclear energy had been on the decline before that.
  • Research shows that a number of reactors have been taken offline due to operating costs being too high, against the backdrop of significant growth in renewable energy options.
  • Some modelling suggests that we will need between 12 to 27GW of additional capacity by 2027 of which 16 GW will come from dispatchable power from Medupi, Kusile and others and 8GW of nondispatchable power from Renewable Energy. The question which begs an answer from Eskom is “do we really need an additional 9.6GW of nuclear energy?”
  • It could take at least 15 years for the first nuclear reactor to come online, therefore nuclear is not a solution to our short- and medium-term supply challenges.
  • The most pressing argument is that South Africa simply cannot afford to invest in nuclear, given that we have reached our limits on sustainable debt and struggle to afford diesel for generators, or to fund the construction of the Medupi and Kusile power plants.

We are yet to see leadership engage in a debate with society which addresses the pros and cons of nuclear energy. If Molefe says the current nuclear energy plans are the feasible solution for this country’s energy needs, can we then at least have transparency on how this deal is to be financed, with whom our money will be spent and who is going to oversee this project?

To address Molefe’s second question, the seemingly unfair treatment of the Gupta’s Oakbay by the South African Banks: South Africa has some of the most stringent banking regulations in the world and the regulatory bodies within the SA lending industry have kept the country in strong stead throughout the recent global recession. Surely the question Molefe should be asking is; “What have the Guptas done to warrant such drastic actions from a regulatory body and banking industry who stands in good faith?” Molefe’s conduct would suggest that all is well in the “State of Oakbay” and that there is nothing untoward about the Guptas’ conduct in SA, their interference in political appointments and so many other issues which have arisen in relation to the infamous Guptas?

On Molefe’s attack on the media

Of additional and equal concern was Molefe’s conduct by way of his personal attack on well known and respected journalist Chris Yelland and his company, EE Publishers. Molefe openly and verbally expressed his distaste for Yelland and said that it was his personal aim to close down EE Publishers. Strong words indeed, which had me thinking that Mr Yelland may have been a nasty person with a personal vendetta against Eskom or Mr Molefe, possibly with defamatory or derogatory statements thrown into the mix.

So, I took time out to learn about EE Publishers and Mr Yelland. The more I looked, the more I found a credible publication and a highly respected man in the journalist fraternity. In fact I have even seen a tweet from Mr Yelland defending Eskom against a questionable statement about Eskom. I found a man who was knowledgable about the subjects he writes on and a thorough journalist who has the facts on matters he scribes about. Yelland certainly asks tough questions and highlights issues that need answers, such as his 15-point plan for Eskom to solve their crisis back in 2014. (Disclosure: Chris Yelland is Daily Maverick contributor)

Clearly Mr Moelfe does not like his critics. This is also borne out in his tirades against others who criticise him or his organisation, such as Ted Blom, Dirk de Vos, Prof Eberhard, Carol Paton and others. It begs the question that if there has been no unlawful or defamatory conduct by Mr Yelland against Mr Molefe or Eskom, what did Molefe mean when he said it was his personal aim to bring down EE Publishers? Was this a direct threat? Does he intend to use the power of his position at Eskom to lean on those who do business with EE Publishers? What other sinister means might there be to carry out this threat?

Molefe comes across as someone who lacks the decorum and the engaging style of leadership we expect of someone at the helm of a critical state-owned entity. His challenge and disrespectful attack against the media contingent and their “kangaroo court antics” was, to put it mildly, both shocking and pitiful.

Could it be that Molefe’s overt behaviour has positioned himself as just another arrogant and untouchable head of a monopolistic state-owned entity? Let’s face it, if Eskom operated in a competitive environment, they would be defunct today. Mr Molefe would be well advised to note the general consequence of those in authority, who get too high on their own power juice, and become confused between their choice of serving their stakeholder or the stateholder. Eskom’s most important and critical stakeholder is the public, the very same people who question his defence of an irrational nuclear policy and the dubious Guptas.

His conduct will merely attract more suspicion, criticism and inquests. Not less.

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