A group of 22 diverse faith leaders from around South Africa gathered at Schoenstatt Retreat and Conference Centre in Cape Town from 30 May to 1 June for the Nuclear Free South Africa advocacy and campaigning workshop.
This was one of four advocacy training workshops planned for 2022, with eight women and fourteen men participating from the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and the Karoo. The training aims to support communities responding to the extractive oil and gas industry by opposing nuclear energy and promoting renewable energy as part of South Africa’s just transition.
The series of workshops is a collaboration between Safcei and The Green Connection, inspired by the successful opposition to the South Africa-Russia nuclear deal by Liziwe McDaid and Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa. The two are the co-recipients of the globally prestigious 2018 Goldman Prize for their role in a successful campaign and court case the previous year to stop the two governments from concluding a corrupt billion rand nuclear deal.
Liz’s experience in environmental justice advocacy, which spanned decades and culminated in her Goldman Prize, led her to consider how she could use her knowledge to empower others. Her close working relationship with Safcei prompted Liz to approach the multi-faith eco-justice organisation with her plan. Finally, the first of four workshops took place.
Over three days, the enthusiastic participants explored the history of the nuclear energy campaign in South Africa, why nuclear is a problem and the art of speaking truth to power. They also discussed legislation governing nuclear energy in South Africa and how to use an advocacy framework that forms a thread for the programme, as well as tips on promoting advocacy activities and causes on social media, and how to integrate environmental justice into an organisation’s life and work.
They learned about the current state of the nuclear situation in South Africa and related it to different sections of the Constitution of SA. The government of South Africa is duty-bound to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the rights in the Constitution.
The group took particular note of Section 24 of the Constitution, which reads:
Everyone has the right –
(a) to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-
(b) to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that –
(i) prevent pollution and ecological degradation;
(ii) promote conservation; and
(iii) secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
The distinct discrepancy between the lived experience and the Constitutionally enshrined rights, particularly as applied to the nuclear situation in South Africa, shocked many of us. Listening to Liz describe the 2017 campaign culminating in the historic and victorious anti-nuclear court case, we realised how powerful and effective careful and strategic advocacy could be.
Participants selected an issue related to nuclear energy that they would focus on for the practical component of this course. In the Karoo, the nuclear-related problem is groundwater contamination from the continued uranium mining that supports nuclear energy production. As a result of the contaminated water, there is biodiversity loss in the area, and communities have become increasingly water-poor.
In the Eastern Cape, nuclear relates to the proposed building of another nuclear plant at Thyspunt, near Gqeberha, in an ecologically sensitive area that includes an indigenous burial ground and the site of many indigenous medicinal plants.
In the Northern Cape, the nuclear waste storage facility, Vaalputs, continues to be a site of major concern. We discovered at a Northern Cape workshop in March that Vaalputs had not held a public safety meeting for two years, despite 4 such meetings per annum being part of their mandated responsibility. Despite this, the government announced the previous week that the facility, which had until this time contained only low and medium-level toxic waste, would now be upgraded to accept high-level nuclear waste as well.
The decision to store high-level toxic waste at Vaalputs is related to the Koeberg nuclear plant near Cape Town, which is due to be decommissioned in 2024 but is instead the subject of a major government push for a life extension for another 40 years. The consequences for the health and safety of people in the Western Cape and those in the extended affected areas are incalculable.
The workshop participants committed to reporting to their communities on their experience of the first workshop and paying particular attention to informing them about the nuclear issues facing our country. They also committed to reporting in detail to their cohort about their environmental justice-related activities undertaken in their areas. Their reports will also reflect on how the community members received the shared information.
Lead facilitator, The Green Connection’s Nkosikhulule Nyembezi together with Liziwe McDaid and Nandipha Masango, presented comprehensively and backed up their work with a well-researched and collated tool kit. The tool kit provides several exercises participants can use to consolidate their training, test their knowledge and prepare for the next workshop in the series.
The next workshop will take place in Cape Town from 11-13 July.
Rev Berry Behr