Two South African women- Liz McDaid and Makoma Lekalakala- were awarded the prestigious Goldman prize for their success in stopping a secret and undemocratic billion dollar nuclear contract between South Africa and Russia. Under the original plan, Russia would sell about 10 nuclear power stations to SA at a cost of about 11 Trillion rands. This is $76 billion in the US dollar terms.
It takes courage
Lekalakala, who is black, and McDaid, a white South African, were the only signatories among the now successful legal challenge where South Africa would have purchased the nuclear stations from Russia. A high court, after spending a total of five years, outlawed this deal in April 2017. The court accepted claims made by the plaintiff that the deal was struck sans any proper parliamentary consultation. This decision does not only have significant geopolitical ramifications, it also vindicated the civil society movement in South Africa. The movement wants to expand public participation, especially by women, when it came to energy decision making.
McDaid works for South African Faith Communities Environment Institute. She said the campaign was a nod to the fact that the grassroots action could be an effective protest tool. The white South African told the media that governments all over the world prefer to offer an impression that citizens are powerless. This is clearly not true. Every democracy has checks and balances. These must be used.
Risks to life were aplenty for these two women when they went against the electricity utility, the South African president, and also foreign powers' interests. Both McDaid and Lekalakala were warned of violence and personal attacks which could destroy their reputation. They remained unfazed and signed all legal papers nevertheless.
Women and struggle
According to Lekalakala, it was important to her that women lead the campaign. She pointed out that the Goldman prize was being awarded to them as they had sacrificed themselves by putting their reputation on the line. All others were scared to protest.
Both Lekalakala and McDaid gained their activist experience during the 1980s when the anti-apartheid struggle was at its peak. McDaid, a teacher then, was thrown into Athlone's Trojan Horse massacre in Cape Town. Students hid in her house when police chased them. For Lekalakala, she was born and raised in Soweto, the center of black consciousness movement. She witnessed horrific violence both from then white rulers and also black factional fights.