Two South African women have been awarded a prestigious international environmental award for their work in winning a crucial court case against plans by government to proceed with a nuclear build programme.
Earthlife Africa-Johannesburg’s (ELA-JHB) Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid from the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) were due to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco in the US later on Monday.
This comes after ELA and Safcei approached the Western Cape High Court in October 2015, challenging government’s decision to buy up to 9 600 MW of nuclear energy. The court last year set aside nuclear agreements signed by the South African government with vendor countries, declaring the procurement processes unlawful and unconstitutional.
Lekalakala said: "The nuclear deal was (and potentially still is) a major threat to the livelihood of South African citizens and our quality of life. There are other ways of generating energy, ways that are clean and affordable and puts the power in the hands of the people. It is important, for our sustainability, that we start thinking differently about how we satisfy our energy needs. It is not sensible to think that what used to work in the past, can still apply now, particularly since the evidence is overwhelming against nuclear technology and fossil fuels."
Lekalakala divided her time between her home in Johannesburg and the Earthlife satellite office in Limpopo, where pollution from power stations and coal mines contaminated local communities to a point where farmers could no longer grow their crops safely.
McDaid said: "The risks with nuclear are just too high. I believe that if people have the facts, they will choose differently. This is what we are doing through our campaigning. For example, there is so much we don’t know about the future impacts of nuclear waste, which continues to grow every year. Koeberg alone generates approximately thirty (30) tons of high-level waste per year – all stored at the plant. Furthermore, the Chernobyl disaster, which happened 39 years ago this week, and Fukushima still continue to provide evidence of the enormous risks of nuclear."
McDaid, who is based in Cape Town, has been campaigning against nuclear energy for decades, preventing previous attempts by South Africa to develop a nuclear industry.
Both Lekalakala and McDaid agreed that it was through partnerships built with other NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that resulted in them winning the court case and bringing the proposed nuclear deal out in the open.