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Archive for the ‘Green’ Category

A Killer Waits for the Lights to Go Out – Read an Extract from Hour of Darkness by Michele Rowe

Hour of DarknessHour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe is a spine-chilling thriller set in Cape Town in the context of Earth Hour.

Last time, we brought you an extract from Hour of Darkness which focused on a robbery in Clicks in the Constantia Village mall. In the second excerpt, we catch a glimpse of Fred Splinters, a cold-blooded killer who enjoys coming home to a serene domestic setting and where he can slip into his Woolworths robe.

In this chapter, Fred is sitting in his car, watching as all the houses, his own included, go dark as everyone in his cosy neighbourhood prepares for Earth Hour.


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Read Part 2 of the extract:

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28 March

Earth Hour

Fred sat in his car and watched the lights go off in the houses on the street. One by one. He checked his dashboard clock. Eight p.m. exactly. Then the light in his house went off. Natasha would take something like Earth Hour seriously. She’d got some weird ideas in her head. He didn’t mind. It was best to do what everyone else in this neighbourhood did, and not stand out in any way.

     The house looked unlived-in from the outside: a seventies, split-level affair with wood and slasto details. Only a rental, as impermanent as every other place Fred Splinters had occupied. He deserved something better by now. It gave him a sour taste in his mouth to think he might be a failure. It was not a good thought, not a helpful thought. Why had Natasha insisted on this area? She liked the ‘ordinariness’, she’d said, that she could walk to the shops. However, it was also close to Diep River Police Station, only four blocks away, which did not suit Fred at all. He preferred to give the law a wide berth. He clicked the gate remote. The metal gate shuddered, partially opened, and then stuck. It was just one of the many things about the dump that set his teeth on edge. It meant he had to get out of the car – a late-model Camry sedan (a deliberately unremarkable choice) – and shift the gate himself, giving it a little shove to dislodge it. Try as he might, he could never discover the exact place where it stuck. He’d tried everything: oiling it with 3-in-1, dismantling and reassembling it, checking the rails and runners. He didn’t want to call in a professional repairman – he never allowed workmen to snoop around at the house if he wasn’t there. He couldn’t trust Natasha not to draw attention to herself the minute his back was turned.

     He parked the car and switched off the lights and ignition, taking his time and gathering his thoughts. Unpleasant ones were preoccupying his mind at the moment. Natasha had been more nervous than usual lately. Jumpy almost, since they moved into the house.

     He had let himself in one day, when she was out, and gone through her things, finding nothing unusual apart from an old, chipped cup hidden at the back of the kitchen cupboard. Inside was an envelope, and inside that a key. A key for a post-office box he had no knowledge of. His first impulse had been to collect more information first, so that he was well armed beforehand. But the temptation to immediately confront Natasha with the evidence of her perfidy proved too tempting.

     ‘What’s this?’

     Natasha had stared at the key lying in the palm of his outstretched hand, then lowered her eyes. It gave him a thrill, the way she tried to hide her fear. She should be fucking scared. Fred had a nose for fear. He could smell it, like an animal scented danger.

     ‘Never seen it before,’ she lied, wiping her hair behind her ear. Another one of the nervous habits he’d tried to wean her off.

     She was a small woman, slightly built and narrow-hipped, and looked pretty good considering how rough she’d had it. Before Fred came to her rescue.

     He shoved it in her face, inches from her nose. ‘You’re telling me you’ve never seen this before?’

     Her dumb-animal headshake did nothing to reassure him. She wouldn’t be scared unless she had something to hide.

     So he had gone to the nearest post office, which was Plumstead, and tried all the boxes. Eventually, one had fitted. Box 1240. It was empty. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. But the knowledge of it would serve as extra leverage against Natasha.

     He wouldn’t rock the boat for the moment. He must be patient with her, soothe her into letting her guard down, and then act.

     She would be getting nervous now, wondering what Fred was doing, waiting for him to get out of the car. She would time it so that she was opening the door for him as he came up the stairs from the garage. Fred liked to think she spent all day waiting for the moment when he came home. The least she could do when you thought about everything he had done for her. Saved her from the filth and poverty of life on the street. He shuddered at the thought of the diseases she might have been carrying. Fortunately, he had not defiled himself with her, or any other woman for that matter. He had never enjoyed intimacy. Killing was already a very intimate act, and he did more than enough of that.

     Fred’s domestic life was the only refuge he had from his demanding job. He liked to come home and let Natasha bring him a drink as he sat in his La-Z-Boy in his Woolworths robe, feet up, dstv on. She would have his meal ready and would sit next to him, ready to jump for whatever he wanted. Pondering her usual domestic acquiescence, Fred found it difficult to believe Natasha would actually hide anything from him. The thought of it was like a hot needle in his heart. Deep down, he clung to the hope that she was innocent.

     But Fred’s assessment of human beings was a cynical one. And nothing in his life had ever challenged that conclusion. Perhaps it was the nature of his work, but he found that people only truly responded to force. He did not necessarily enjoy exercising violence on others. It just happened to be what he did, was second nature to him. He never got emotional, or took it personally. That’s why he had a good reputation.

     He watched the flicker of candlelight warm the window of the living room. Then he got out of the car and went inside the house to where Natasha waited for him.

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Extracted from Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe (Penguin)

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Michele Rowe Discusses the Challenges of the Dreaded Second Novel at the Launch of Hour of Darkness at The Book Lounge

Michele Rowe

An hour of delightful conversation took place at The Book Lounge in Cape Town earlier this month when novelist and filmmaker Michéle Rowe launched her second book, Hour of Darkness.

The author was joined by the owner of the bookshop, Mervyn Sloman, in a discussion that crossed the spectrum from hilarious banter – “This book is seriously good shit!” – to an in-depth and serious exploration of the evolution of the narrative process.

Together, Sloman and Rowe took the guests through an account of how the book was written, the ethics of representing others’ lives in fiction, the murky side of the police and the almost inexpressible challenges of the dreaded “second novel”.

Hour of DarknessSloman mentioned that Hour of Darkness is set in the context of Earth Hour as it takes place while people in Cape Town are protesting against global warming. He described the book as a pacy read, with an intricate, issue-driven plot. He noted the way she had escaped the stereotypical trope of the grieving widower-alcoholic-workaholic-maverick cop “who wouldn’t last a day in the real world”.

“At the centre of the novel is the wonderful character, Detective Percy Jonas, who featured in Michéle’s debut novel, What Hidden Lies. She’s flawed. She makes some really crap decisions along the way, but she’s written in such a way that the readers are desperate to cover her back the whole way through,” Sloman said.

Sloman praised the “fullness” of the characters as Rowe created them. She spoke about the challenge of getting under the skin and into the head of the characters she wrote. “I like to jump into the subjective view, then to move out to get the objectivity, telescoping in and out. When I’m in the characters’ skin and head, they come to life,” she said.

To do that effectively, Rowe undertook a lot of research with real police officers. She mentioned one detective she interviewed who liked to talk about himself, describing him as a narcissistic sociopath. “He was a great cop. He deserves medals for his human rights observation. He was open, speaking freely about his work. He took me along, gave me good access to his life,” Rowe said.

Rowe reflected on the way police officers don’t use the mental health facilities available to them. She said, “Cops tend not to get debriefed. They don’t want to be seen as having mental health issues, yet they all do.” She mentioned the sense of becoming a sort of therapist to one of the men she interviewed. “I wasn’t judging him. I was there to listen, to make sense of his job. It went smoothly, but he is a frightening individual,” she said.

“It’s not easy being in the police. They are 60 percent under-resourced. There’s lots of racial tension between the coloured and black cops. It’s a tense situation. You feel compromised because they tell you things in confidence. They have a very difficult job. I wouldn’t advise any woman to do that job,” she said.

Rowe reflected on the culture of using force in the SAPS and the interrelated psychological profiles that are drawn to the job. “There’s something enticing for powerless people to put on a uniform and represent the state. The kind of people who are attracted to that kind of power usually have problems of identity and power. They’re often troubled people,” she mused. “In South Africa, particularly.”

Soon enough, the conversation moved to less gloomy topics and Sloman read a hilarious extract from the book. Those who attended the event thoroughly enjoyed Rowe’s take on the literary temptation of elaborate but turgid descriptions of fynbos. They toasted the success of Detective Percy Jonas and her creator with a glass of Leopards’ Leap wine, while queueing to get their copies autographed.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:



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“There are Robbers in the Store”: Read an Excerpt from Michele Rowe’s Spine-chilling Hour of Darkness

Hour of DarknessHour of Darkness, the latest novel by Michéle Rowe, is a spine-chilling thriller that tells the story of a series of disappearances and a mysterious death.

During Earth Hour, a band of violent criminals use the darkness to wreak havoc in the exclusive Constantia Valley outside Cape Town.

Detective Percy Jonas and her latest love interest, Detective Ren Tucker, are on the case, which takes them to the underbelly of Cape Town where violent gangsters and shady politicians rule.

In the following excerpt from Hour of Darkness, a band of robbers invade Clicks in the Constantia Village mall and hold the shoppers hostage.

Read Part 1 of the extract:

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Severine was collecting one of her many prescriptions from Clicks, the supermarket-type pharmacy in the Constantia Village mall two blocks from her home. Her mother, who had accompanied her, waited for her at a coffee shop nearby. She was reluctant to allow Severine to walk around alone outside of the security estate where they lived, preferring to drive her the two blocks there and back.

     Severine headed for the dispensary but was distracted by a display of aromatherapy oils: myrrh, bergamot, cypress and rose. She unscrewed the top of the rose bottle and sniffed, disregarding the ‘please do not open’ sign above the shelf. So absorbed was she with the pungent scent and the small exotic bottle that at first she didn’t notice him.

     Only when he moved closer, and then too close, did she become aware of his strangely immobile presence. She looked down at the broad hand resting on the shelf beside hers. A hand that extended from the cuff of a pale-blue shirt.

     ‘Don’t be afraid.’ The voice was quiet, almost a whisper, but had an unmistakable urgency. Severine stepped back, startled, and the open bottle slipped from her hands and rolled across the floor. She turned to meet the man’s dark eyes staring at her anxiously. Two crossed lightning strikes were embroidered on the badge of his shirt pocket, underneath which a plastic ID tag read ‘James Chilenga, Security’.

     ‘There are robbers in the store,’ he said. ‘Please do what they say.’

     Severine found it difficult to understand what he was saying. She could only think about the pungent smell of rose oil from the spilled bottle that was making it difficult for her to concentrate. Should she offer to pay for it?

     James Chilenga took her hand. His was big and warm. He led her gently down the aisle towards the tills. He was much taller than Severine, and broad-shouldered. A sweat stain darkened the back of his shirt.

     Smartly dressed men were at the till, pointing AK-47s at the cashiers in a bored, nonchalant way, which seemed to Severine to disguise some inner turmoil. Facing them, his arms raised in supplication, was the store manager, looking embarrassed by his own helplessness.

     As if responding to some backstage cue, the cashiers filed out from behind the tills with their hands up. First out was a large woman with a shining, sweating face and strained eyes. Following her came an older woman with livid pigment discolourations on her cheeks and forehead that made her look as if she were wearing a mask. The large woman struggled to keep her arms raised over her breasts. She also appeared to have lost control of her facial muscles, as her mouth was strangely contorted. Severine noted these minute details, imprinting them on her memory as if she were sketching them for a drawing. A woman in a bunchy fur coat was at the till – she had been waiting to pay. One of the armed men shouted at her. Trembling, she put down her shopping basket and followed the cashiers onto the shop floor.

     The man brandished his machine gun and shouted, ‘All of you, face down on the floor!’

     As one, shop workers and customers dropped flat onto their stomachs. Severine could feel her heart thudding against the hard surface of the floor.

     She lay between the cashier and the fur-coat woman, the store manager prostrate ahead of her. She noticed the checkerboard tiles that seemed to stretch out in an infinite perspective of black and white, like an Escher print. They were coated in a thin film of grease and grit that felt sticky and grainy against her cheek. She focused on the bottom of the manager’s thick-soled shoes, gouged with deep treads like tractor tyres. Blobs of chewing gum and gravel and dark sticky lumps were stuck in the treads. She became aware of a muffled blubbering and wondered if someone had been hurt. The sound set off the cashier with the pigmented skin, who began whimpering and softly moaning, ‘I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.’

     Severine shifted her head slightly and saw the robbers picking their way among their hostages in their expensive sports shoes, with footsteps as soft and muffled as cats. Two of them had guns pointed at the people on the floor, the other two were emptying the tills. Severine caught the eye of the fur-coat woman. Close up, she was a lot older than Severine had first thought. Her face was that of a weird baby’s, smooth and tight-skinned from cosmetic surgery and curiously frozen, but her old-woman’s eyes were filled with mute terror. Severine found something curiously metaphysical about the moment, as if it were written in the stars that each and every one of the people around her had been predestined to share this exact moment, lying supine, side by side on the floor, awaiting their fate.

     A sudden movement at the entrance caught her attention. A young woman, not much older than herself, had wandered into the shop, unaware. She wore some sort of Middle Eastern or maybe Muslim clothing: a blue tunic to the floor, her head covered with a loose headscarf. She looked so innocent, so otherworldly, and completely oblivious to the danger she was in. Astonishingly, the robbers did not appear to have seen her. Severine felt a creeping cold. Somehow she had to warn the girl without alerting the gunmen. She silently directed all her energy towards her, willing her to leave.

     The girl’s benign gaze fell on Severine. Their eyes met, Severine’s full of mute warning, pleading with the girl to leave immediately. Frustratingly, the girl maintained her calm, almost serene, expression, as if there were nothing unusual in the scene before her, the shoppers flat on the floor, the robbers at the tills. Severine became faint with fear. Was the girl simple, or just slow-witted? The scent of roses was overpowering. Suddenly the girl raised her hand in a commanding gesture and directly addressed Severine.

     ‘Be not afraid,’ she said.

     Severine steeled herself for the robbers’ response, but they were busy at the tills, showing no sign of having heard. Severine looked back at the entrance.

     The girl was gone.

     She wondered if shock had brought on a hallucination, if the girl had been there at all. But strangely her fear had lifted and a calm detachment had taken its place. To her left, the fur-coat woman was watching her. On impulse, Severine reached over and grabbed her hand. The woman gripped her back, the bony white atolls of her knuckles showing. Severine turned her head to the right, to face the cashier. She reached out to her. The woman’s hot, clammy hand grasped hers as if it were a lifeboat in a raging sea. James Chilenga lay just beyond them. He was sweating and his gun holster was empty. Severine met his eyes kindly, reassuringly. An invisible thread of love seemed to connect each one of them to the other, an unbreakable golden cord as fine as silk, through which Severine relayed the mysterious girl’s message. Be Not Afraid.

Book details

Extracted from Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe (Penguin)

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Join Michele Rowe and Mervyn Sloman for the Launch of Hour of Darkness at The Book Lounge

Invitation to the launch of Hour of Darkness

Hour of DarknessPenguin Random House and The Book Lounge would like to invite you to the launch of Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe.

Rowe will be chatting to Mervyn Sloman about her latest spine-chilling thriller featuring Detective Persy Jonas.

The launch takes place on Wednesday, 30 September at 5:30 for 6 PM at The Book Lounge.

See you there!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 30 September 2015
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland Street
    Cape Town | Map
  • Interviewer: Mervyn Sloman
  • RSVP: The Book Lounge,, 021 462 2425


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See Venice Through a Writer’s Eyes: Michele Rowe Reflects on Her Visit to the Venice Biennale

Hour of DarknessWhat Hidden LiesMichéle Rowe has written a two-part blog entry for All About Writing on her visit to the beautiful city of Venice.

Rowe’s latest novel, Hour of Darkness, was recently released by Penguin Random House South Africa and is premised around the question: What crimes are committed in Cape Town during Earth Hour when the city is shrouded in darkness?

In part 1 of her blog entry entitled “The Art of Visiting Venice”, Rowe describes the first glimpse of the city and shares photographs of the watery streets and impressive statues.

Read the article:

I am here for the Venice Bienale, the biggest art show in the world, where my husband Warrick is showing work at the South African Pavilion. It is preview week, and Venice is filled with art lovers, buyers and practitioners, some of whom are crowded onto the deck with me. The Grand Canal opens up into the lagoon and we are greeted by the two churches, San Giorgio Maggiore and Salute, dream like visions rising straight out of the water. Surely one of the most beautiful welcomes to a city from the sea.

Read part 2 of Rowe’s account of her visit to Venice, in which she reflects on all the wondrous art she experienced at the Venice Biennale:

The most beautiful building in the Giardini, is the Russian pavilion, this year painted green Inside, artist Irina Nakhova has made a series of remarkable “total environments,” conceived together with curator and expert on the Russian avant-garde Margarita Tupitsyn. The environments consist of multi media collage of haunting images, and an electrifying red and green room. At the entrance, we are confronted by a sinister giant black space helmet, looming out of the darkness. The visor is entirely blank, only the hissing sound of slow compressed breathing can be heard. Suddenly it blinks into life and the artist’s enormous eyes appear trapped inside. The impression of claustrophobia and imprisonment is and unnerving.

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Violence Erupts in Cape Town During Earth Hour in Michele Rowe’s New Crime Novel, Hour of Darkness

Hour of DarknessPenguin Random House presents Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe, coming soon!

Readers familiar with Rowe’s exhilarating plot twists and authentic South African characters will love her latest spine-chilling thriller.

It’s Earth Hour. Around the world people are switching off their lights to mark the global energy crisis. Violent criminals use the cover of darkness to wage terror on the exclusive Constantia Valley outside Cape Town.

A series of disappearances and a mysterious death sees the return of Rowe’s popular Detective Percy Jonas. Percy, with the help of her latest love interest, Detective Ren Tucker, is disturbed by an abduction that evokes her own abandonment as a child. When one of the missing turns up dead, followed by a ransom demand, the hunt intensifies. Links to violent gangsters and shady politicians lead her to the crime-ridden township of Khayelitsha. Soon she is engulfed in a political firestorm, where even her own police force cannot protect her and she is faced with a terrible choice – her very own hour of darkness.

A page-turner from one of South Africa’s exciting new crime novelists.

About the author

Michéle Rowe is a South African scriptwriter who works primarily as a head writer and story originator for television and film. She attended the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, and has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town.

Rowe first worked as a graphic artist and later as a production designer for films and TV commercials. She was a founder member of Free Film Makers, an anti-apartheid grouping of film-makers, directors and actors who created acclaimed independent documentaries and dramas.

From there she moved into documentary film chiefly as a researcher, before moving on to writing drama series and feature films.

She has also worked briefly as an egg peeler, waitress, columnist, pop-star, and historical film archivist.

Projects Rowe has originated, written or directed have been nominated for or won various awards, including an Oscar documentary and International Emmy nomination, a Mail & Guardian Short Films Prize, a Special Jury Award at Skip City International (Japan), a Banff World TV Award (Canada), a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Award), and the Andrew Murray – Desmond Tutu Prize.

Her work reflects her ongoing preoccupation with South Africa’s culture, politics and history through the medium of drama and story.

She lives in Cape Town with her husband, son and daughter.

What Hidden Lies was her first crime novel, and the winner of the 2011 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.

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Try the New Sasol Young Explorer App, Available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa

Stuarts' Field Guide to Mammals of Southern AfricaStuarts se Veldgids tot Soogdiere van Suider-AfrikaPenguin Random House Struik is pleased to announce their new app Sasol Young Explorer – Mammals.

The app is in four languages – English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa. It introduces children to African mammals, teaches them calls and develops problem solving skills.

Read more about it:

Mammals come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, from tiny bats and mice to massive elephants and whales.

Sasol Young Explorer – Mammals is a beautiful, engaging and multilingual app that introduces young kids (3–8 years) to the wondrous world of southern Africa’s wild creatures.

Divided into ‘Learn’ and ‘Play’ sections, the app blends storytelling and game playing in a fun and educational way, and is packed with interactive features that will stimulate children’s development and broaden their knowledge.

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Save the Rhino by Legalising Rhino Horn Trade? Ivo Vegter Weighs Up the Pros and Cons

Extreme EnvironmentIvo Vegter, author of Extreme Environment: How environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies and columnist for the Daily Maverick, has written an article about whether legalising the trade in rhino horn could save the species.

Vegter explains why dehorning rhinos or poisoning the horns do not deter poachers – they simply kill any rhino they find in order to make their own tracking process easier and to save themselves time and money.

The author summarises the two options available to reduce rhino poaching: “Reduce demand for horn by education campaigns, improve anti-poaching security measures, tighten law enforcement, and/or legalise trade.”

Read the article in which Vegter highlights the pros and cons of each option:

His killer argument, however, is this: a government-controlled central selling organisation is far more likely to win the approval of the delegates at CITES than an unrestricted free market. As much as I prefer my capitalism unfettered, he’s right. They’re all watermelons there: green on the outside, and red on the inside (to use James Delingpole’s provocative phrase).

The fate of the rhino hangs on whether these people can be persuaded. If that means making a compromise that appeals to socialists, statists and bureaucrats, then it seems a good compromise to me.

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Ivo Vegter: A Little Common-sense Goes a Long Way to Debunking Sensationalised Cancer Risk Claims

Extreme EnvironmentIvo Vegter, author of Extreme Environment: How environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies, recently wrote an article for the Daily Maverick about the way that media exaggerates concerns about cancer.

In the article, Vegter looks at how the cancer risks of e-cigarettes and fracking in the Karoo have been represented in media. He says that misleading statistics and dodgy science, combined with sensationalism, are used to create an exceptionally overblown account of possible risks.

Read the article:

Because it is hard to assess the cancer risk of, say, e-cigarettes or fracking, we are often content to trust what the media, lobby groups or scientific papers say. But while we may not be masters of sophisticated risk assessment tools, a little common-sense understanding goes a long way to debunking many scary claims.

According to new research, the cancer risk of using e-cigarettes is ‘15 times greater than smoking cigarettes’. Oh boy, did I ever get that wrong. Also, fracking ‘could be sowing the seeds for a cancer epidemic in the Karoo’. Dear me. If true, I’d look a right fool.

What are we to do with all these alarming headlines? I get them sent to me routinely, by people who, one assumes, are trying to prove that something I wrote turned out to be terribly wrong.

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Ivo Vegter on Russian Nuclear Reactors: "Should the Government go Ahead?"

Extreme EnvironmentIvo Vegter, the author of Extreme Environment: How environmental exaggeration harms emerging economies, has written an article for the Daily Maverick about the nuclear reactors South Africa has agreed to buy from Russia.

The purpose of his article is to deliberate on whether the government is taking a wise course, or if the deal is something South Africans should work to oppose.

He compares the cost and implications of nuclear power with other ways of generating electricity in South Africa, and looks other countries that use nuclear power to inform his opinion.

Read the article:

The long-rumoured deal with Russia for a family pack of nuclear reactors finally broke last week. At R500 billion and change, it weighs in at a lot cheaper than the R1 trillion mooted in energy circles. But then, we are buying nuclear plants from the only country that ever managed to blow one up.

Half a trillion rand for eight nuclear power plants delivering 9,600MW is a pretty good deal. If that is indeed what we’re getting. The Mail & Guardian reports that president Jacob Zuma personally negotiated the deal at the BRICS Summit in Brazil in July. However, the M&G’s own estimate of the cost for 9,600MW is closer to R1 trillion, and there are reasons to believe that this deal is far from final.

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