Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor has become the second witness at the state capture commission of inquiry to implicate the controversial Gupta family in attempts to hijack SA’s R1-trillion plan to include nuclear as part of the national energy mix.
Mentor’s testimony at the commission on Monday detailed how the Gupta family had already been lined up to become the main supplier of uranium to government’s nuclear build programme, which was intensely lobbied by former president Jacob Zuma.
If South Africa had gone ahead with its high-cost line-up of new nuclear power stations, the Gupta family would likely have profited at the expense of an already constrained fiscus.
Mentor’s revelations follow the release of the long-awaited draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) on Monday, which doesn’t include additional nuclear power energy beyond the 2.5% installed capacity at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. Essentially, it puts further nuclear investments off the table until 2030.
Mentor’s testimony revealed how SA’s critical decision making responsibilities – including those related to its energy generation capacity – was allegedly outsourced to the Gupta family, a de facto government.
On numerous occasions going back to 2010, Mentor had attempted to secure a meeting with Zuma over government’s decision to cancel the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Dubbed SA’s small version of a nuclear power plant, the PBMR was designed as a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor using uranium as fuel.
After more than 10 years and an estimated R8 billion spend, government decided to cancel the PBMR project due to cost overruns, numerous missed deadlines and lack of customers.
Mentor, who chaired parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee until 2010, was on a mission to resurrect the project. This would later be endorsed by Eskom, which held the intellectual property rights to the project. “It would be reckless to close it down,” she told the commission, given that money had been invested in it by government and that the suspension of skilled professionals would ensue.
On a Sunday evening in mid-September 2010, Mentor received a call from Lakela Kaunda, Zuma’s then chief of staff and advisor, wanting to arrange a meeting between her and Zuma the next day (Monday) in Pretoria.
Although this was the breakthrough Mentor had been waiting for, she was concerned; the meeting was to take place at short notice, and she was in Cape Town when Kaunda called her.
Enter the Guptas
According to Mentor, Kaunda gave her contact details to one of the Gupta brothers – whom Mentor believes was Atul – to arrange the logistics of her trip to meet Zuma, including flight details and shuttle services.
Two men were waiting for her when she arrived at OR Tambo International Airport. She thought they were drivers who would escort her from the airport to Zuma’s office in Pretoria. She identified one of the men as Rajesh, one of the Gupta brothers.
Instead of being taken to Zuma’s office, Mentor was taken to the Gupta family’s Saxonwold home, where she met Ajay.
Mentor said the men who escorted her, one of whom was Rajesh, knew that she was due to meet Zuma to discuss her plans to resurrect the PBMR. “I was shocked that he knew I was meeting the president … that unsettled me.”
Upon arrival at Saxonwold, she met Ajay, who eventually expressed the family’s interest in SA’s nuclear deal. Ajay allegedly told her that the Gupta family would be the main supplier of uranium deposits from the Northern Cape for the nuclear build programme. “When he [Ajay] later came to meet me in Saxonwold‚ he referred to me coming from the Northern Cape and the Northern Cape being rich in uranium … he said I could be helpful.”
He then offered Mentor the public enterprises minister post – just before Barbara Hogan was ousted. Mentor stated that Zuma was also at the Gupta family house when the cabinet post was offered to her. The plan was that if Mentor accepted the post – which she didn’t – she would help the Guptas to secure nuclear contracts. Despite knowing that Mentor wanted to revive the PBMR project, Ajay allegedly told her it “won’t play any role in the nuclear build.”
Mentor’s testimony is the second that links the Gupta family to the nuclear programme. Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas delivered a bombshell revelation on Friday, saying the Guptas wanted to increase the money they earned from the fiscus from R6 billion in 2015 to R8 billion through the nuclear programme.
Jonas was offered a R600 million bribe in October 2015, allegedly by Ajay, to become finance minister, replacing Nhlanhla Nene. If Jonas had accepted the offer to replace Nene – which he emphatically rejected – it would have precipitated a process in which National Treasury’s credible leadership would be replaced by Gupta lackeys, and its budgeting processes undermined to benefit the family.
The Guptas have rejected all allegations of wrongdoing, including meeting Mentor and Jonas, and making cabinet post offers to them.