Daniel Friedman
3 minute read
27 Jul 2018
4:39 pm

Zuma faces charges while his friend Putin visits SA

Daniel Friedman

The former president's appearance in court over corruption charges comes as his ally attends the Brics summit in Johannesburg.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's officially declared income was a relatively modest 18.7 million rubles ($302,000, 242,000 euros) in 2017

Some on Twitter, including journalists Ferial Haffajee and Alec Hogg, have pointed out that it may not be easy for Zuma to have appeared in court on corruption charges at the same time as Russia President Vladimir Putin’s visit to South Africa for the Brics summit at the Sandton National Convention Centre in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Zuma and Putin are not only in the same line of work – they are also buddies. The Citizen reported in 2016 that the two were said to speak regularly on the phone, and Zuma has made several state visits to Moscow to spend days at a time with his friend.

The most intriguing of these visits was in August 2014, when Zuma appeared to be labouring under the effects of a mysterious illness. He travelled to Moscow without the usual SABC journalists in tow, and without the usual assortment of ministers, curiously taking along only state security’s David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister of International Relations Nomaindia Mfeketo, a few officials and his doctors.

READ MORE: Is Zuma Putin the knife into SA?

Apparently, he spent three of those six days just “relaxing”.

It was also reported Zuma and Putin were said to be as close as they were thanks to the largely untold story of how they had worked together in the 1970s and 1980s during the apartheid years, when Zuma rose to being the head of intelligence for Umkhonto weSizwe, and Putin gained increasing access to the levers of power in Russia’s highly feared intelligence service, the KGB.

Apart from their friendship is the sensitive issue of the nuclear deal.

The Citizen reported in May that Deputy President David ‘DD’ Mabuza, who was on a state visit to Russia, had been instructed to relate the “bad news” to Putin that South Africa wouldn’t be going ahead with a much-discussed deal involving Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, because of affordability concerns.

Fin24 reported on Friday that Ramaphosa told Putin in person that South Africa’s nuclear energy expansion programme could not happen at this time.

The programme, which Zuma had championed, was discussed between Cyril Ramaphosa and Putin on Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson was reported as saying no conclusion on the matter was reached.

READ MORE: Ramaphosa and Patrice Motsepe ‘keep it in the family’ in the Middle East

Russia has been one of the countries vying to build new nuclear power reactors in South Africa that would produce about 9.6 gigawatts of energy. But the controversial project, which gained momentum under Zuma, has been criticised for being too costly for the country’s struggling economy.

“The issue of nuclear expansion was discussed, as it relates to our broader energy mix,” Ramaphosa’s spokesperson said. “The president reiterated that South Africa can only afford it at an appropriate time, and at a pace and scale it could afford.”

Ramaphosa is thought to favour renewable energy schemes to nuclear.

The Citizen reported that questions had been asked about Ramaphosa’s proximity to both billionaire Patrice Motsepe and politician Jeff Rabebe. Both men are his brothers-in-law, and both are involved in renewable energy. Making Radebe minister of energy was one of Ramaphosa’s first actions as president.

Additional reporting by Charles Cilliers

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