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Gwede Mantashe axing of nuclear watchdog activist Peter Becker was unconstitutional, rules court

Gwede Mantashe axing of nuclear watchdog activist Peter Becker was unconstitutional, rules court
Illustrative image | Sources: Energy minister Gwede Mantashe: (Photo: Brenton Geach) | Activist and former NNR board member Peter Becker. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | A road sign for the Koeberg nuclear power station. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | NNR logo. (Image: Supplied)

Becker served on the National Nuclear Regulatory Board.

The axing of nuclear watchdog activist Peter Becker from the National Nuclear Regulatory Board last year was unconstitutional, the Western Cape high court has ruled.

The effect of Judge Babalwa Mantame’s ruling is that Becker, who was appointed as a community representative on the board in June 2021 following a public call for nominations, must be reinstated.

The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, the National Nuclear Regulator, and the board — who all opposed Becker’s review application — have been ordered to pay costs.

Becker, who is the spokesperson for the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), was appointed as a non-executive director of the board to represent communities affected by nuclear activities.

Becker was nominated by a number of civil society organisations, including the KAA, which is opposed to further building of reactors at Koeberg Power Station and extending its lifespan.

He held the KAA’s views prior to his appointment and, according to Becker, they were known by the minister.

However, after he gave an interview (published in Energize magazine) in his capacity as KAA spokesperson, and convened a meeting with civil society organisations, he was deemed to be “conflicted” and that he was not complying with his “fiduciary obligations”.

Becker was suspended and then fired by Mantashe, who publicly stated at the time of his suspension: “If you resist nuclear and you [are] a board member, I fire you, simple. You can’t be [on] a board of something you’re not advocating for. We want nuclear there in Port Elizabeth”.

Mantashe’s decision to fire Becker was backed by legal opinion from law firm MacRobert, which found that Becker was not protecting or promoting the business interests of the regulator or preserving its reputation.

Becker, in his court application, argued that the minister had an ulterior motive to get rid of him because of the challenging questions he raised.

Read the full judgment here.

Judge Mantame said that when Becker commented for the Energize article, he had done so in his civil society activist role, prior to his formal appointment and his acceptance as a member of the board.

Regarding Becker’s meeting with civil society bodies, following his appointment, Judge Mantame said he had advised the board of this.

“The goal was to collect the top concerns relating to nuclear safety across organisations … and to bring those concerns to the board, since he was a representative of those communities.

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“In a situation where he made the agenda of the meeting known to the regulator, it is inconceivable how the allegation of him representing the board (as opposed to being a representative on the board) without authorisation to do so, came about,” the judge said.

Judge Mantame said legislation decreed that the 12-member board had to have a representative from communities affected by nuclear activities in order to heighten the level of deliberations and engagement.

“It appears Mr Becker’s views became of utmost concern days after he was appointed … it does not appear that there was any constructive engagement between the board and Mr Becker on how to conduct himself in accordance with the prescripts.”

Judge Mantame said Becker was never advised that it would not bode well if he wore two hats (a board member and spokesperson for the KAA) and the issue should have been dealt with in a more constructive, pragmatic and professional manner.

The judge said there was nothing on record to show that the communities who had nominated Becker to the board were advised of his suspension in January 2022.

While the minister claimed this had “nothing to do with the public”, the judge said, to the contrary, “public interest is of utmost importance in this matter”.

“If the communities have a right to representations on the board, equally they have a right to be formally advised that such a right is about to be terminated and they should make representations so that their views could be considered.”

Judge Mantame said the board should have considered themselves fortunate to have Becker, who represented these communities, as a member whose input would have been enlightening and which brought a different perspective to the discussions other than government policy.

“Much to this court’s dismay, in a board consisting of 12 members, it is not clear how Mr Becker’s only opinion could have swayed all the other members. Also, the allegations that his public views concerning desirability of nuclear energy are said to be ‘contagion’ that would ‘infect’ the board’s decisions, is fanciful.”

Judge Mantame said “most shocking” were the utterances made by Minister Mantashe after Becker had been suspended but prior to his dismissal.

These suggested that the minister had prejudged the issue and had acted in bad faith and with an ulterior motive.

She said while Becker should have relinquished his position as spokesperson for KAA after his appointment, his conduct could have been resolved without him being fired and the process was clearly unfair.

“In conclusion, the statements (Becker) made, his request for information from the regulator’s employees and the meeting with members of his constituency cannot be construed as misconduct. Even if there was a perception of conflict of interest, in my view, it was capable of being mitigated. It then follows that a sanction of discharge is unsustainable.” DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    “Mantashe acted in bad faith and with ulterior motive”. Pretty much sums up the entire ANC cabinet. These words should result in him being hauled before parliament so he can explain to South Africans what his motive is. And then be suspended from his position.

    He has the audacity to accuse Andre de Reyter of stirring up an overthrow of government while a Court of Law puts together such a damning statement that he is acting with an ulterior motive.

    Please Ramaphosa, save us from this disaster. Unless it is you who is dictating the ulterior motive?

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      I agree with your comment. Ramaphosa cannot “save us from this disaster”. He, Mantashe and the entire ANC ARE THE DISASTER!

      The only solution lies in the next elections. Please, Daily Maveric, deliver some articles in that direction. For The People.

  • J C says:

    While the minister claimed this had “nothing to do with the public” …

    What an idiot – it has EVERYTHING to do with the public – this buffoon needs to be put out to pasture just as soon as he has made a visit to court ….

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    I’m really tired of incorrect and invalid anti-nuclear sentiment particularly as expressed by the leaky-freaky-greenies because their anti-nuclear ramblings are not based in fact. For once ( and I’m confident, never again ) I agree with Mantashe in his axing of Peter Becker. If you don’t like nuclear power then go sit on some other board.

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    Mantashe’s nuclear dream neatly demonstrates his utter incompetence. Given the lead time from the planning stage to the provision of power, there is absolutely no way that nuclear power stations can possibly resolve Eskom’s crisis even if we could afford them – the grid will have collapsed years before that. The Eskom story is a metaphor for the success of the ANC in government: since load shedding began FIFTEEN YEARS ago there has NEVER been any improvement in power provision to the nation – only a consistent decline, with every year worse than the one before. The ANC has been either powerless [pardon the pun] or too wedded to its leaders’ collective greed for wealth to do anything at all about it. Nothing – nothing at all – is going to change until the ANC disappears altogether and unlamented from our national life. That’s if we survive the national grid collapse which is rumbling down the road towards us, just as surely as Gwede Mantashe doesn’t give a solitary sh*t for you, me or his country

    • Uma Kabanye says:

      Agreed. All that motivates the Minister is an outworn apparatchik faith that the State should, can, MUST be the sole supplier of power to the whole country.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Mantashe runs the DMRE as if it is his own private fiefdom, and not a very good or efficient one at that!
    The arrogance of our government is astounding, they forget they are the civil servants of us the people, who frankly have little faith or confidence left in their ability to craft a sustainable future for us at all!

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Grid failure is forcing us to do what we should be doing anyway. Building a solar power plant at home.

  • Karen Schirmer says:

    My helper resides in Cosmo City. At one point she went without electricity of 3 months. She claims that Eskom installed a transformer for her area and soon after, stole it and did not replace it until each household in the area had come up with the money to have it reinstalled. I can’t remember the full amount, but each house had to come up with R6000.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    ESKOM is the Titanic.
    Mantashe is the iceberg.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    As long as there are such wise judges and judgments, I have not yet lost my faith in a better South Africa. And yes, every household that has the opportunity should put solar panels on the roof.

  • Rod Bulman says:

    Puts a new spin on the slogan, “Go Gwede, Go!”

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    This article says everything you need to know about Mantashe and the ANC: arrogant, deluded, dismissive, functionally illiterate for the posts they hold and in complete contempt of the law and society.

  • debruinfam says:

    Will Gwede be so polite to pay the court costs from his bonus?

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Gwede must think boards are rubber stamps. They and the public are not supposed to investigate the issues or have opinions in ANC land

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