SA Women win Goldman Environmental Prize

Two South African Women win prestigious environmental award

Almost a year since winning the nuclear court case – it was announced that the two women who were the driving force behind the victory, were awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco, USA. Earthlife Africa's Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid from the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) joined the winners from five other continents and were honoured for their efforts to successfully mobilise South Africans against the government’s secret R1-trillion nuclear deal.

Through their passion for justice, the environment and for the country, these grassroots activists courageously led a broad coalition of likeminded citizens and NGOs, to successfully expose government’s unlawful and unconstitutional nuclear deal with Russia. At a time when high-level government corruption was at its peak – with the nuclear deal taking centre stage – this landmark legal victory not only served to protect South Africa from lifetimes of nuclear waste, but also restored some faith that justice was still possible in South Africa.

Says Lekalakala, Director at ELA-JHB, “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 divides her time between her home in Johannesburg and the Earthlife satellite office in the Limpopo province, where pollution from power stations and coal mines has contaminated local communities to such an extent that farmers can no longer safely grow crops.

Says McDaid, Eco-Justice Lead at SAFCEI, “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 is based in Cape Town and has been campaigning against nuclear energy for decades, thwarting previous attempts by South Africa to develop a nuclear industry.

Both women agree that it was through the partnerships forged with other NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) – which resulted in mass grassroots mobilisation – that was pivotal to the court case win. The court case in turn, brought the nuclear deal out into the open and more and more citizens began connecting the dots.

For both Lekalakala and McDaid, the anti-nuclear campaign only forms part of their work. Lekalakala also works on the campaign, which discourages the use of coal for energy generation, but rather advocates for the just transition to renewable energy systems for the people. McDaid, on the other hand also co-founded , an NGO working to empower people to participate in their environment to promote truly sustainable development.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis says, “SAFCEI is immensely proud of Liz and Makoma, and the recognition they are receiving for their work on the nuclear deal, with the Goldman Environmental Prize. It was their tenacity and commitment to blowing the lid off the secret, and corrupt, nuclear energy deal – which would have bankrupted South Africa and set us back generations in terms of development.”

SAFCEI and ELA-JHB are small environmental organisations, which through the knowledge and experience of Makoma and Liz, realised the threat and depth of corruption of the nuclear deal, and took the South African government to court, and won, against all odds. It was a victory of Dave and Goliath proportions. Makoma and Liz’s personal commitment and actions went the extra mile to promote the constitutional rights of South African citizens, and we are thrilled they are being honoured in this way. The message we want to share to the world is that Africa does not need nuclear energy,” adds de Gasparis.

Kumi Naidoo, the founding chair of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity and who has long worked with both McDaid and Lekalakala says, “This is wonderful news. Both Makoma and Liz played such courageous and visionary roles when they challenged then-President Zuma’s intention to build new nuclear power plants with the Russian state. I want to thank both Liz and Makoma for their leadership, persistence and perseverance in taking on, what many wrote off as a done deal and pushed it right off the table. They both deserve this award, most generously.”

According to Susie Gelman, President of the Foundation, “Liz and Makoma epitomize what the Goldman Environmental Foundation stands for: Courage, compassion, vision, collaboration, and hard work in the name of environmental justice. Their significant achievements in South Africa, inspire people all over the world and we’re proud to recognize the efforts of these dynamic environmental leaders.”