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Court castigates Gwede Mantashe on axing of anti-nuclear activist, denies leave to appeal

Court castigates Gwede Mantashe on axing of anti-nuclear activist, denies leave to appeal
From left: Sacked National Nuclear Regulator board community representative and Koeberg Alert Alliance member Peter Becker. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Julia Evans)

The Western Cape High Court has dismissed the applications of Minister Gwede Mantashe and the National Nuclear Regulator for leave to appeal against its ruling that the axing of anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker from the National Nuclear Regulator board was unconstitutional.

The Western Cape High Court has refused applications by Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) for leave to appeal against the same court’s decision on the sacking of anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker.  

The applications were for leave to appeal against Western Cape High Court Judge Babalwa Mantame’s scathing judgment on 19 January which found Mantashe’s decision to discharge Becker from the NNR board was “unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gwede Mantashe axing of nuclear watchdog activist Peter Becker was unconstitutional, rules court

On Friday, 26 May, Judge Mantame ruled that Mantashe and the NNR, in their respective applications, had failed to convince the court that there was any reasonable prospect of success in an appeal and that there were compelling reasons why an appeal should be heard.

They were ordered to pay the costs of the application. 

“The test applied in an application for leave to appeal amongst others, suggests that there must be a sound and rational basis for the conclusion that there are prospects of success on appeal. 

“The respondents have not taken this Court into its confidence and identified the compelling reasons why this matter should be heard by an appeal court, other than to give this Court’s judgment their own meaning. The fact that they preferred their own interpretation to the comments and findings of the Court could not be said to be a justifiable reason/s for the matter to be heard by an appeal court,” concluded Judge Mantame.

A thorough dressing-down

Both respondents received a thorough dressing-down from the judge, who criticised their apparent decision on reading her initial judgment “selectively. The respondents cannot substitute the Court’s analysis with their own convenient censure,” she said.

The judgment coincided with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s move to finally bestow his new minister of electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, with real power — transferring responsibility for procuring new electricity generation to Ramokgopa from Mantashe. At first glance, the loss of such procurement powers appears to be a blow to Mantashe. But Ramokgopa’s new responsibilities are not quite what they seem, as Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten writes.

Becker, the spokesperson of the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) — a civil society organisation opposed to the further building of reactors at Koeberg Power Station and extending its lifespan — was appointed to the NNR board in June 2021, to represent communities affected by nuclear activities.  

In February 2022, he was fired by Mantashe, who alleged Becker was guilty of “misconduct” and was “conflicted”, after he gave an interview in his capacity as KAA spokesperson, in which he raised concerns about the use of nuclear power in South Africa, and after he convened a meeting with civil society organisations.

Becker’s initial suspension from the board in January 2022 was on the same day that the steam generators in unit two were approved for replacement, which is one of the steps required before any life extension could be granted. Members of civil society have since questioned the timing of his suspension. Becker launched a court bid to challenge his axing last year. In his first court application, he argued that Mantashe had an ulterior motive to get rid of him because of the challenging questions he may have raised.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Bull in a china shop – Gwede Mantashe

In her judgment on 19 January, Judge Mantame concluded that Becker’s public statements, his requests for information and the meeting with members of his constituency could not be construed as misconduct. Additionally, even if there was a perception of conflict of interest, it was capable of being mitigated.

In Friday’s judgment, Judge Mantame reiterated: “Similarly, in this matter, in light of the finding that there was no evidence of misconduct on the part of the applicant, it then follows that there is no rational or sound basis for his discharge. In the circumstances, the conclusion that there are prospects of success on appeal or that there are compelling reasons for the appeal to be heard is without merit.”

This raises the question of what the minister’s motivation had been to axe Becker. The reasons and decision of Mantashe to discharge Becker from his office as a director of the board, Judge Mantame ordered in January, were reviewed and set aside. However, Becker is currently in limbo and is excluded from the NNR board and board processes.

The Western Cape High Court’s refusal to grant leave to appeal to Mantashe and the NNR doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road, as they can still petition the Supreme Court of Appeal directly for leave to appeal.

Daily Maverick contacted the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s ministerial liaison officer, Natie Shabangu, for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.

Daily Maverick also contacted NNR spokesperson Gino Moonsamy for comment. Moonsamy said: “It was too short notice for a response from the NNR. You are welcome to contact me within the week.” DM

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  • Stuart Woodhead says:

    Time for Mantashe to go and run his fleet of coal trucks!!

  • Chris VZ says:

    Once again these ANC clowns (ministers) are wasting tax payer money as they either have no clue about the law or because they believe they can twist it to suit their agendas. More likely the latter. Thank goodness we still have a judiciary that isn’t entirely captured by the ANC.

    • Marko V says:

      Absolutely. The ANC ministers behave like a mafia organisation.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Well … they (the ANC especially the likes of Gweezy and co.) still hope that one day they can have a judiciary like the ones in Russia and China etc (incidentally India inching that way!) … which are extensions of the ruling (only ones allowed!) party ! Remember … here we even had a judge president at the southern most tip of africa … wanting it to be that way also ! Why a dilly dali advocate wanting it that way … is still allowed to ‘practice’ after years of abusing the system for his personal enrichment … is beyond me ! Time is long past for the judiciary to take firm steps against such serial abusers .

  • Johan Buys says:

    the concept of an anti nuclear activist having a board seat on the nuclear regulator is completely daft. There is no way he can fulfill his professional / legal obligations impartially. No, I am not pro nuclear or pro mantashe.

  • idnankin says:

    Mantahe is toxic, but when will the President of committes realise this.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Firing Becker for “misconduct” and accusing De Ruyter of “treason “ is beginning to look decidedly racist to me! This, on top of what is obviously moves by the politically connected to aid their plans of further backhanders they’re receiving from our BRICS partners who themselves see SA as a country to plunder and rob.
    BEE policies and BRICS membership will ultimately destroy this country.

  • tamaryn.mcpherson says:

    So my hard-earned Tax money has now paid for Mantashe’s stupid decisions. Man am I mad.
    I would love that we start to professionalise Government and public sector. These guys should study, write exams and do internships to get up the Public ladder – such BS that they have zero accountability.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Long ago I said that ‘state employees’ are entitled to “legal protection” provided they win their “case” … but not if they lose ! In such instance (of frivolous cases) they have to personally ‘cough up’ . That would immediately bring to an end … this rash of rushing to court or appealing judgements. It would also ‘free up’ some space in hectic court schedules … to focus on real matters.

      • Peter Dexter says:

        Apart from the legal costs, there should also be personal accountability for the consequences of errors, as happens in all professions.

  • Andrew Wallace says:

    Why doesn’t CR grow a pair and just tell DMR and the NNR to stop wasting everyone’s time and tax payer monies – enough already.

    • mikejreddell says:

      Exactly, there’s so much of our tax payer money wasted on BS like this, “twinkle toeing” in their own 💩 It’s total incompetence and zero planning. We need Eskom to be fixed by people who have the knowledge on how to run a company. We’ve never had problems with Eskom prior to cANCer arriving on site, they’re long passed their “sell-by” date…. Haven’t a clue to run anything successful, and it can be seen throughout the entire country. This guvmint has betrayed all the citizens of the country for self enrichment….
      Little to zero integrity….

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    Does this mean that Vlad the Mad may not get the contract signed for Nuclear Power Stations when he pays SA a visit in August?

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    A few days ago someone wrote that some ANC members think that they own the country, and now they also want the courts to rule like they want. “they preferred their own interpretation to the comments and findings of the Court could not be said to be a justifiable reason/s for the matter to be heard by an appeal court”

  • L Dennis says:

    When the wicked perish the righteous will flourish. No man shall prevail by his own strength. I will keep on praying for our beautiful country.

  • Rae Earl says:

    The only possible reason for Mantashe’s continued presence in his position is because of Ramaphosa’s slavish dependence on the ‘collective’ to make his decisions for him. Any self respecting boss would have replaced Mantashe long ago. But wait! There may be light at the end of the tunnel. The new Minister of Electricity has finally been given confirmed status and teeth to go with it. Not enough at this stage, but certainly enough to start taking Mantashe on and doing a much better job than him.

  • Gled Shonta says:

    Now that Gwede has been shown to be out of bounds, it is urgent that a new, broadly acceptable NGO/ civil society candidate be appointed to the board to replace Peter Becker. There are a number of suitable experts who could step into this role should Becker not be able to stand.

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    The ANC hierarchy really thought that this country was theirs to do with as they pleased once Madiba retired, how wrong the are.

  • Richard Weirich says:

    Thank goodness at least the judiciary/courts can stand up to ……… Physically remove the checks & balances, we, the ANC can do what we like, when we like. Gwede, learn to behave with professionalism, dignity & respect.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    Mantashe must be one of the greatest torturers of truth & logic of all time. Some of his utterances are beyond comprehension.

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