Nuclear energy referendum

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) hosted energy meetings at the M L Sultan St Marys Primary School Hall on the 2nd March 2017 and at the Austerville Community Hall on the 6th March 2017. The purpose of this meeting was to educate and mobilise community members on the proposed nuclear energy build as contemplated by the government and Eskom. Citizens need to understand that they have the power to refuse or accept nuclear energy fleet proposed to be built in South Africa. Sustainable energy should be the main focus in this country not unsustainable and dangerous energy.

The meeting was opened by Desmond D’Sa, SDCEA coordinator, who discussed the important of community unity against unsustainable developments. He then gave a report back of the Clairwood racecourse development that is currently been taken review to the high court in Durban. “This community has a history of environmental activism that has previously brought successful results such as the closure of Mondi trucks using residential roads. The communities of south Durban need to unite against this nuclear build as the proposal is to develop a fleet of these facilities along the South African coastline  and will pose an enormous danger to people and marine life .

D’Sa gave an update on the nuclear court case and feedback on the workshop he attended in Cape Town regarding the nuclear court case where Earthlife Africa and SAFCEI is challenging the SA government’s nuclear procurement process – a process which has been shrouded in secrecy and misinformation. He explained that the nuclear deal is very dangerous and is done in a very secretive manner; it is very expensive and will destroy our environment. SDCEA point of view is that we don’t need nuclear energy in South Africa; it will bankrupt this country and destroy the environment which the future generations will have to pay for.

Dr. Gerard Boyce (Economist in development studies) started off by expressing that ‘we the people have power’ and this power needs to be used very well especially against the nuclear energy in South Africa. The nuclear deal is presented in a very technical way, whereas there is also the financial and environmental side to it. This approach makes the citizens confused and view nuclear energy as a very complex and scientific thing. There is a lot of information that is not shared nor made available to the public.

People’s power can be gained by the use of a referendum. The public vote on the nuclear deal instead of the politicians making a decision. This is a very possible because other countries have also voted against nuclear energy. For example, in Austria, 1978 it started with less than a quarter of people in this room. Each of us can make a different.  Throughout the world its young people that have driven the nuclear referendum. According to Dr. Boyce ‘The referendum will benefit citizens by putting people back at the centre of politics, create greater openness and transparency in nuclear dealings. It will ensure increase in current levels of public participation and fostering of a culture of participatory democracy. To sum up, it will be a creation of an active and engaged citizenry.

Noluthando Mbeje (SDCEA environmental project officer) spoke about nuclear energy campaign and why communities should be part of this campaign. She started off by explaining the importance of education and access to information regarding this deal. SDCEA has been working with other organisations such as Earthlife Africa, SAFCEI and ground work to name a few. SDCEA has been active in fighting against proposed nuclear energy plans put into motion by the department of energy in 2011 through public education, community meetings and multiple protests.

SDCEA together with other organisations has been hosting meeting and bringing international speakers as far back as 2015. In September 2015 a meeting in M. L. Sultan St. Mary Primary School in Merebank, and in the Austerville Hall, Wentworth was held where a member of the Russian environmental group (Ecodefense) Vladimir Slivyak spoke about rumored nuclear dealings between South African government and his country. In October 2016 a meeting at the City of Love Ministry in Merebank, was held where an Indian activist, Mr. Vatakkayil Thazhe Padmanabhan a reputed epidemiologist who has many years of experience in environmental health issues and nuclear energy gave a talk on ‘How nuclear energy has affected the people of India socially, economically and physically’ and linked his talk to how nuclear energy will affect South Africa.

Communities have committed to be part of protests to highlight why we don’t need nuclear energy in South Africa. The SDCEA held an anti-nuclear energy picket outside the Durban City Hal on the 8th February 2017, outside the Department of Mineral Resources of the 14th December 2016 and several at the Eskom, Westville offices. A petition is currently being designed to vote against nuclear energy. According to Mbeje this is where citizens are supposed to showcase their power by putting down their signature on the petition.

Two concerns were brought forward at this meeting. The high electricity bills that pensioners have to pay and the estimation that lead to these high bills. The municipality doesn’t take meter readings on a monthly basis and only work on 3 months estimations. The other concern was on Eskom having too much electricity which has been proposed to be given to big users. This should not be allowed as it will be history repeating itself.

One of the greatest successes of having meetings of this nature is that people are brought together with a common purpose and fruitful engagement. Merebank, Wentworth, Bluff and Glenwood residents had positive suggestions and input such as:
·         Get well over 15 000 signatures on the petition
·         Universities need to do research on how many people have cancer in south Durban
·         Get youth involved
·         Choose one community and school to start up a renewable energy project one. Do one at a time.
·         Have more people educated and involved.
·         Improve our marketing system (including social media) as this is time for action
·         Do manual petitions for those people that don’t have computers and internet
·         Invite the Minister of Public Enterprise Ms. Lynn Brown, Energy minister Ms. Tina Joemat-Pettersson and local Treasury officials to a community meeting to engage with them on the energy issues affecting local communities.

These meetings were only the beginning of many ways to get nuclear energy out of South Africa. It was agreed that another meeting will be held in the next month as ongoing mobilisation in every corner of Durban. There was a commitment by those present to go out and mobilise for more people to be part of the nuclear campaign. The petitions can be collected at the SDCEA offices for people to sign and will be posted up on social media, blog and website.