President Jacob Zuma is scheduled to deliver an hour-long address at a controversial two-day energy indaba on Thursday, possibly lifting the lid on a potential nuclear deal and his vision for South Africa's energy future.
The energy department hastily arranged an energy indaba at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand during the past two weeks, under the theme “Energy sector stimulating economic growth, development and job creation”.
The indaba, which takes place on Thursday and Friday, is the brainchild of Energy Minister David Mahlobo, who was appointed in October.
Speculation is rife that his appointment was to push through a nuclear deal, after one of his first instructions to the department was to finalise SA's overarching energy plan, the integrated resources plan, with immediate effect.
This would then allow him to start the R1-trillion nuclear procurement programme tender process, which critics fear has been rigged in favour of the Russians.
Opponents have warned that the indaba served this agenda.READ: Mahlobo instructs officials to fast-track SA's energy plan
Ministerial spokesperson Nomvula Khalo said that more than 700 delegates are expected to attend the indaba, including energy sector stakeholders, ministers, premiers, and representatives of local government.
“A number of experts in the sector will share concrete solutions on how the sector will re-energise the economy to achieve radical socioeconomic transformation whilst creating the necessary jobs,” she said. The draft programme
features a number of high level delegates, including Treasury director general Dondo Mogajane and the chief executive of the Public Investment Corporation, Daniel Matjila. Despite fears that the indaba would focus on nuclear, all energy sectors at first glance have a voice.
Last week more than 20 civil society groups wrote to Mahlobo, expressing concern that the minister would use the indaba to speed up the integrated resources plan and integrated energy plan process and release it with nuclear as an energy requirement in December.
There is also concern that the indaba is being used to justify this public participation process. But last week Wednesday civil society groups argued in the Western Cape Town High Court that trying to speed up the process in any way would not cut legal muster.READ: Mahlobo and Eskom will face court action if they fail to keep nuclear process legal
The urgent application by Earth Life Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute drew promises from Mahlobo, the government and Eskom that they would not proceed with the controversial nuclear energy deal without adhering to an earlier court ruling in April.
Also on Monday, the South African Academy of Engineering urged Mahlobo to postpone the indaba. In a statement issued by academy president Trueman Goba‚ the institution said the indaba should be postponed to January next year to allow for proper planning.
Goba said ideally a conference of this magnitude should wait until the release of the much-awaited integrated resources plan to allow meaningful participation by all relevant stakeholders.
On Tuesday Annette Gibbs, communications manager for the Centre for Environmental Rights, said the civil society group remained concerned that the energy indaba does not allow for all expert views to be adequately considered.
The groups were particularly concerned about renewables' voice at the conference. "It also doesn't make adequate provision for community and civil society voices to be heard."