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Mantashe, regulator lose court bid against anti-nuclear activist

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe

29th May 2023

By: News24Wire

  

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Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) have lost a court bid concerning an anti-nuclear activist.

In January this year, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the minister's decision to fire anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker from the board of SA's nuclear safety regulator was unlawful. 

The minister, the NNR and its chairperson subsequently lodged an application with the Western Cape High Court for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal. 

Judge Babalwa Pearl Mantame, however, stood by her initial ruling and on Friday, 26 May, refused to grant leave to appeal the matter.

"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," she said.

Mantame said that the court was "satisfied" that Mantashe and the other respondents had "failed" to meet the threshold or requirements that would allow them to be granted leave to appeal.

They were also ordered to pay the costs of the application.

News24 has reached out to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and the NNR for comment.

Becker was appointed to the NNR board in June 2021 after he was nominated by civil society organisations such as Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute, Pelindaba Working Group and Koeberg Alert Alliance (KAA) to represent the views of communities who may be affected by nuclear activities, News24 previously reported.

Becker is also the spokesperson of KAA – a civil society organisation opposed to the building of further nuclear reactors at Koeberg.

Mantashe had dismissed Becker in February 2022, citing in court papers that Becker's "personal interest" conflicted with his duties to the NNR. This relates to Becker's position at KAA.

Notably, in his capacity as KAA spokesperson, Becker was quoted in an online magazine, expressing criticism against nuclear energy and raising concerns over the safety of the Koeberg nuclear plant. The article also mentioned that he had been appointed to the NNR's board. At the time, Becker had not been inducted to the board, nor had he signed a performance agreement with the board, News24 previously reported.

The court, in its initial ruling, found that Becker and other board members were only appraised of their duties and the NNR's media policy at a later date.

The court also highlighted there wasn't any "constructive engagement" between the board and Becker on how to conduct himself after he made statements for the online magazine. The court also criticised the board's handling of the matter, which could have been "dealt with better and in a more constructive manner," News24 previously reported.

In the leave to appeal judgment, Mantame reiterated that there was "no evidence of misconduct" by Becker and, therefore, no "rational or sound basis" for his being dismissed. 

"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," Mantame said.

Becker said he hoped that this "very clear" judgment would be accepted by all the parties concerned so that he can continue his duties on the board of the NNR.

"I am pleased with this judgment from the high court because, for the second time, it is has confirmed that there was no misconduct on my part," said Becker.

"My role on the board was representing communities who are potentially affected by nuclear installations. While I am disturbed that there has been no such person on the board for the past year and a half, I am pleased I can once again fulfil that role."

Edited by News24Wire

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