Minister Gwede Mantashe is reported to have said that “If you resist nuclear and you [are] a board member, I fire you, simple. You can’t be a board member of something you’re not advocating for.” He made this outrageous statement at the ANC’s Eastern Cape elective conference on Saturday, in obvious reference to his recent dismissal of National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) board member, Peter Bekker.
Mantashe appears unaware of, or perhaps chooses to blithely ignore, the National Nuclear Regulator Act 47 of 1999, which outlines the role the NNR (and its board) play in terms of nuclear technologies in South Africa. The Act states in section 5 that:
The objects of the Regulator are to—
(a) provide for the protection of persons, property and the environment against nuclear damage through the establishment of safety standards and regulatory practices:
(b) exercise regulatory control related to safety over –
(i) the siting, design, construction, operation, manufacture of component parts, and decontamination, decommissioning and closure of nuclear installations; and
(ii) vessels propelled by nuclear power or having radioactive material on board which is capable of causing nuclear damage, through the granting of nuclear authorisations;
(c) exercise regulatory control over other actions, to which this Act applies, through the granting of nuclear authorisations;
(d) provide assurance of compliance with the conditions of nuclear authorisations through the implementation of a system of compliance inspections;
(e) fulfil national obligations in respect of international legal instruments concerning nuclear safety; and
(f) ensure that provisions for nuclear emergency planning are in place.
It is clear from the above that the promotion or advocacy of nuclear technology is not among the objects of the Act, and indeed that role in South Africa is undertaken by another state-owned entity, the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA).
Furthermore, the Act makes specific provision for a board member representing communities affected by nuclear activities. This was the role that Bekker was appointed to fulfil.
Mantashe’s doubling down on his dismissal of Bekker, purely because he asks difficult questions about nuclear safety, flies in the face of good governance and indicative of how the ANC views appointments to government controlled boards and entities. Mantashe went further, in the same speech, to lambast ESKOM board member Busiswe Mavuso for her criticism of the ANC before SCOPA, saying: “Anyone who want attention attacks the ANC. We put someone in a board at ESKOM and they then insult the ANC.” Clearly the truth hurts, and Mantashe is afraid to have the continual failures of the ANC pointed out to him.
This minister is clearly unfit to hold office. His conflation of party and state, his arbitrary decisions and his rudderless energy and mining policy framework make it impossible for him to stay on. President Ramaphosa should get rid of this incompetent minister now, before he causes more damage to our already failing economy.