South Africa's new Energy Minister David Mahlobo refused to promise that corruption will not take place in South Africa's contentious nuclear deal with Russia, in a hard-hitting interview on Talk Radio 702 this morning.
The minister, who was appointed in a surprise reshuffle of the national executive on Tuesday, wouldn't answer the question from host Stephen Grootes: "All I'm asking for is a promise that there is no corrupt intent?"
"I need to sit down and get a full briefing," Mahlobo said in response.
"If people are making statements that they are confident getting this thing or not, well, they are not speaking on behalf of the South African government. But as you know, there were problems with the process, as the courts have said, so the process must be above reproach, and in the interest of South Africans.
"We promise that there is going to be good governance, accountability, and issues around the environment, and the scale at which this would be done," he said.
Mahlobo argued that nuclear power will remain an option on the table when South Africa considers its energy mix. "It's not a question of whether we need nuclear power, South Africa is already using an energy mix. All other nations advancing are using nuclear and gas."
He pushed back when Grootes continued to probe him on Russia's involvement, given Mahlobo's own recent visit to the country. "Remember it is not only the Russians who put the request for information [in the nuclear deal], why are you not mentioning the French, the Chinese and many other countries?"
The minister said Russia's human rights issues -- which has seen the clampdown on opposition politicians, journalists and the widespread prosecution of LGBTQI communities, among others -- were not a problem South Africa should "single out".
"We should not single out one country -- each and every country has its own challenges. The allegations about human rights abuses... what I know is that all these countries are part of the United Nations," Mahlobo said.
"I recently I read a report from the United Nations Human Rights Council, and I did not see the Russians cited for their human rights issues, but I don't want to speculate as I have not seen the human rights allegations you talk about... why is there so much preoccupation with Russia when there are so many other countries who have human rights allegations?"