Big win for little folk in nuclear plant fight
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Johannesburg – Fighting Eskom’s proposed nuclear reactor has given Trudi Malan a lot of sleepless nights. Lucky, then, that she's an insomniac.
It’s often late when Malan, who describes herself as a “believer in the power of civil society, environmental activists (and) African penguin propagandists” pores over nuclear-related documents.
And after 13 years interrogating Eskom’s plans for the plant at Thyspunt near St Francis Bay, there’s a lot of them.
So far, the 49-year-old has packed 13 arch-lever files, she says, somewhat proudly.
For Malan, who leads the Thyspunt Alliance, a grouping of organisations fighting the project, this week’s sensational ruling in the Western High Court, blocking the government’s R1 trillion nuclear programme, is a victory for the “little guy”.
Malan says organisations like hers feel a sense of solidarity with the SA Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg which took the government to court two years ago to set aside nuclear agreements with Russia.
This week, Judge Lee Bozalek with Judge Elizabeth Baartman ruled that the secret tabling of intergovernmental agreements with Russia, the US and Korea were unconstitutional and unlawful and ruled that they be set aside.
“It does feel like a David and Goliath battle. We feel vindicated. We’ve been saying all along that due process had not been followed, not just with regard to this, but with the whole process against nuclear.
“It’s continuously the small organisations which have to engage with environmental lawyers just to make sure due process is followed.
“We’re up against big money. We see Dr Kelvin Kemm (chief of the SA Nuclear Energy Corporation) slating us because we’re environmentalists, not nuclear physicists, so we’re not allowed to say anything.
"Fighting this takes money and a hell of a lot of commitment to get to the truth. You have to stick to your guns. But the victory is kind of hollow because the road ahead of us is still so long.
“Our organisations are the small voices. We’re not even a pawn on the chessboard, we’re the floor the table is standing on. The chessboard is where the big guys are playing the game.”
Dr Piet Human of the NPO Save Bantamsklip, agrees.
Bantamsklip, near Gansbaai, is another site mooted for nuclear power station roll-out.
“We’re extremely happy with the court outcome but we have to recognise it’s still part of the process, which has now been postponed for a while.
“That’s part of our strategy as activists to cause friction and slow down processes. That’s what we did during apartheid – getting the state in court all the time. They’re little obstacles because we’re little people.
“The longer we can postpone their commitment to nuclear, the better. The world is changing. Everyone is pushing for renewable energy, and nuclear will vanish."
Bantamsklip is the smallest of six floral kingdoms but boasts more than 9 200 species of fynbos. There are 22 Red Data listed species on the property.
“Our coastline is unique. This is a beautiful place and now you want to plonk down a big nuclear power station that could take 45 years to build. It will create havoc environmentally, socially and economically.
“The judgment shows people’s voices do matter. It just becomes unbearable for the government, that’s why they choose these remote places and that’s why it’s important for us to make a big noise.
"We’re like little birds that plump themselves up to make themselves look bigger.”
Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg says the court victory is part of a much bigger battle, while Liz McDaid, SAFCEI spokesperson, says the organisations “experienced delays and dirty tricks, but we persevered and now we have been vindicated”.
For Malan, the fight centres on saving “the heritage of the first nation – the Khoisan".
"This is the coastal cradle of humankind and should not be used for nuclear development.
“One of the two judges in this case was Judge Baartman, and it’s very apt considering we’re in the Sarah Baartman municipality. Maybe there is some justice along the way.”