Nuclear watchdog activist still out in the cold, with plan by Mantashe and regulator to petition higher court
Peter Becker is currently being excluded from the National Nuclear Regulator board and its processes.
A year remains before anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker’s term on the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) board ends, and there is still no sign of him resuming his duties. Now, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and the NNR have signalled they will petition the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), after the Western Cape high court last month, denied them the opportunity of leave to appeal.
Becker has been barred from the NNR board processes since his suspension, and subsequent dismissal from the board by Minister Mantashe in January last year.
The law firm Webber Wentzel is handling Becker’s case pro bono. This week, partner at the firm, Dario Milo confirmed to Daily Maverick that the NNR and Minister Mantashe have both indicated through their attorneys that they will petition the SCA to get leave to appeal against the Western Cape high court judgment, which found Becker’s axing from the NNR board was unlawful.
Following the Western Cape high court judgment of January 2023, the Minister and the NNR initially filed applications in the same court for leave to appeal to the SCA. However, Western Cape high court Judge Babalwa Mantame stood by her initial ruling and, on 26 May, refused Mantashe and the NNR leave to appeal the matter.
Both respondents received a thorough dressing-down from Judge Mantame and were ordered to pay the costs of the application.
Read in Daily Maverick: Court castigates Gwede Mantashe on axing of anti-nuclear activist, denies leave to appeal
Their leave to appeal application will need to be filed by 26 June. Milo said he has not yet received the application.
“If the SCA refuses leave to appeal, the Minister and the NNR could apply to the president of the SCA who may refer the case to the SCA for reconsideration, and therefore there is the possibility of an appeal to the Constitutional Court,” Milo said in a statement by the Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA), on Wednesday.
Becker was appointed to the NNR board in June 2021, to represent communities affected by nuclear activities. He was nominated by civil society organisations, including the KAA, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute and the Pelindaba Working Group.
However, after only eight months into his three-year term, Becker was suspended from the board in January 2022, and later fired by Mantashe, who had alleged Becker was guilty of “misconduct” and was “conflicted” after he gave an interview 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 launched a court bid to challenge his axing last April.
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 being excluded from the NNR board and its processes as the court saga is set to continue.
He had hoped that the Western Cape high court’s judgement would be accepted by all parties concerned so that he could resume his duties on the board.
“So far, I’ve been prevented from carrying out my duties on the board for over half of my three-year term. It’s disappointing that this is now going to be extended while further steps are taken to attempt to have this matter heard by the SCA,” said Becker.
In the KAA statement, Mariette Liefferink, who was appointed as community representative on the NNR board in 2010, was concerned about there being no community representative on the board for the last 18 months.
“The lack of civil society representation on the Board of the NNR undermines the democratisation and independence of the NNR and deprives civil society of a voice in matters pertaining to nuclear waste management including the management of radioactive mine residue areas and nuclear safety,” said Liefferink.
Daily Maverick contacted the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) on Monday, but did not receive a response to our queries by the time of publication. When contacted for comment, the NNR told Daily Maverick to direct our queries to the DMRE. DM