Sunday, 7 September 2008

South Africa : Energy Politics

South Africa: Chavez Oils Way Into Country, Sarkozy Splits Atoms

Business Day (Johannesburg)

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THE government's preoccupation with security of supply, in electricity and energy, was always going to trigger the interest of energy rich countries.

This year alone SA has played host to two leading statesmen - French President Nicolas Sarkozy in March and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez this week.

Their visits, although months apart, were almost an identical execution of the single-minded pursuit of foreign policy. That Sarkozy's visit came soon after the government published its nuclear energy policy and strategy document, and -- even more importantly -- as Eskom was looking for bidders for its multi billion-rand nuclear programme was hardly a coincidence.

Sarkozy put on the agenda what French nuclear company Areva can do as a major player in nuclear energy. Areva CEO , Anne Lauvergeon, who was part of the French delegation could have stayed at home.

Sarkozy was capable of punting the group eloquently. Engaged in a neck- and-neck race with rival US group Westinghouse, Areva could do with a little Sarkozy magic.

Enter Chavez. He came to charm SA this week . And boy he made all the right noises. But, while impressing his hosts, he was not going to take his eyes off the ball -- to be SA's "best energy friend forever".

Given our economy's overreliance on energy, SA can do with oil-rich friends.

In SA Chavez has found a government eager to set up its national oil company, PetroSA, on the world stage. PetroSA has the ask of ensuring that we do not run out of fuel.

Hence the mooted multi-billion-rand crude oil refinery at Coega. And the Venezuelans have a foot in the door. Discussions between PetroSA and its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA include the Venezuelans investing in the refinery.

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