As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid built a broad coalition to stop South Africa’s massive nuclear deal with Russia. Their work resulted in a landmark legal victory against the secret deal, protecting South Africa from lifetimes of nuclear waste.
Former South Africa President Jacob Zuma reached an agreement with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin to build eight to ten nuclear power stations throughout South Africa. The deal was worth about $76 billion and would have generated roughly 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power.
In 2014, Lekalakala, who directs Earthlife Africa and McDaid who is the climate change coordinator for Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) found out about the deal, joined forces developed a strategy to challenge the project—and President Zuma himself—on the grounds that the agreement had been kept secret and bypassed legal process, without any public consultation or parliamentary debate.
Lekalakala and McDaid were also deeply concerned about the environmental and health impacts of massively scaling up South Africa’s uranium mining, nuclear power generation, and the production of nuclear waste.
They also met with communities around the country and explained the financial risks and environmental and human health impacts of the project. McDaid organized weekly anti-nuclear vigils in front of the Parliament in Cape Town to hold parliamentarians accountable. Lekalakala and McDaid also organized marches and public rallies against the nuclear project, protesting across South Africa.
Last year a high court, after hearing from the women and their supporters agreed that the secret deal was unlawful and unconstitutional, agreeing with Ms. Lekalakala and Ms. McDaid’s claims that it had been arranged without proper consultation with parliament.
The new government, now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has since made it clear that nuclear plans for the country have been shelved for the moment.