The tiny village of Komaggas in Namaqualand is fighting to stop the giant ESKOM from building a nuclear powerstation on its doorstep…
“Tell the people of South Africa that the people of Komaggas and the whole of Namaqualand need their help.”
These are the words of Charles Bezuidenhout, resident of Komaggas, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) member and chairperson of the Komaggas Civic Association.
“For a long time now, the people of South Africa have forgotten us. Please tell them, especially those in the towns, that their brothers and sisters in the rural areas are aware of everything that is happening in South Africa. And like them, we are deep in the struggle for a peaceful and democratic South Africa.”
The tiny village of Komaggas lies in the heart of Namaqualand, 115 kilometres from the southern border of Namibia and about 450 kilometres north of Cape Town. It is 70 kilometres from the nearest big town, Springbok.
Komaggas is home to about 4500 people whose ancestors have lived in the area for over 300 hundred years on land that was given to them by the British.
Like most of Namaqualand, Komaggas is hot and dry. The land is like desert. A strong wind blows through the village all day long. There are no tar roads, no electricity and no piped water. Donkeys are still used to fetch water.
There is little work in the area, and most of those who are lucky enough to be employed work on the big diamond and copper mines owned by De Beers. About 80% of the workers are members of the NUM.
The community is controlled by the so-called ‘coloured’ House of Representatives and is managed by the Komaggas Management Board (Local Authority). Residents say that the Management Board is useless. Last year in July, the people set up a Civic Association, an organisation that represents the community.
Recently, the Board made plans to lease the land to a farmer. This will leave the people with very little land to farm, land that is important to them because there are few jobs in the area.
There are no government schools so the local churches have built two schools. Both are primary schools — there are no high schools.
To an outsider, this tiny little village, so far from the big towns, looks half asleep.
But when Learn and Teach went to visit the people, we found that they were definitely not asleep. In fact, they were wide awake and ready for action. And right now, this small community is fighting against the giant ESKOM company that wants to build a nuclear power station 50 kilometres from their village.
SNAPPING INTO ACTION
The people of Komaggas first heard about ESKOM’s plans to build a nuclear power station on their doorstep in November last year. Charles remembers: “We read in the newspaper that ESKOM was doing a survey in Namaqualand. The survey was to see if they could find a good place to build a nuclear power station. The newspaper also said that ESKOM was going to give us electricity and provide jobs.”
When the community heard about ESKOM’s plans, they snapped into action. They knew little about nuclear power — but they knew it was dangerous. They were also angry that ESKOM never consulted them at all. “To this day, we have not heard one word from ESKOM themselves,” says Charles.
The Komaggas Civic Association works very closely with the local Standing for the Truth Committee, (STCC) a committee that was formed by the churches to oppose apartheid. The Civic Association asked the STTC to organise a meeting against the power station.
The meeting was held on 7 December. Among those invited were the NUM, the Namaqualand Council of Churches and the Namaqua Nuus — an Afrikaans newspaper that gives a voice to the grievances of the people of Namaqualand.
Two other organisations, Koeberg Alert and Earthlife Africa, were also asked to come and speak. Koeberg Alert is an anti-nuclear organisation. Earthlife Africa is an organisation that is concerned about the future of our environment.
A NUCLEAR ZONE
At the meeting, Peter Lucky and Caroline Coetzee of Earthlife Africa and Dave Fink and Mike Kantey of Koeberg Alert spoke about the dangers of nuclear power.
They pointed out that Komaggas was not the only place where nuclear power was being planned in Namaqualand. Already, there is a nuclear waste storage plant at Vaalputs 60 kilometres from Springbok.
Since November 1986, nuclear waste has been transported from Koeberg nuclear power station through Namaqualand to Vaalputs. Each week, three or four trucks drive the waste right through the little towns and villages. None of the communities was ever consulted by the government about the transport of waste through their towns.
Nor were they consulted when a private company made plans to import waste and burn it in a nuclear waste incinerator at Peacock Bay, between Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth.
The speakers said that it seemed like the whole of Namaqualand is being made into a nuclear zone. The people agreed that the problem of nuclear power belonged not only to Komaggas — but to all the people of Namaqualand.
TRAPS AND EMPTY PROMISES
When they had finished talking, a young worker stood up. “I used to work at Koeberg power station as a security worker,” he told the meeting. “But I was dismissed because they said the radiation level in my body was too high. Now I don’t know if I will ever be able to have children.”
After this, the people at the meeting agreed that they did not want nuclear power. One by one, they stood up to oppose the plans. “Dis soos n’ slagter wat le vir die nageslag” (It’s like a trap lying there for future generations) said one old pensioner, oom Mantie.
“But what about ESKOM’s promise to give us electricity and jobs?” asked another. “The electricity is just an empty promise,” answered someone else. “Don’t you remember when ESKOM put up a power line to Kleinzee over Komaggas land in the 1970s, and still Komaggas did not get electricity?”
“We need the jobs,” said someone else. “But how many of us will they employ and how many jobs will go to experts? And anyway, must we risk the health and safety of ourselves and our children for a job?” Oom Oulak agreed. “Must we prepare our own gallows?” he asked.
Another person suggested that maybe ESKOM planned to sell the electricity — at very high prices — to Namibia.
There is still another reason why the people of Komaggas don’t want the nuclear power station. “They are using our land to put up this power station,” says Charles. “Land that belongs to us.”
Everybody agreed that they had to fight back. Antjie Bekka Diergaardt insisted: “We must act now. We cannot allow the government to sweet talk us with promises.”
And tannie Hannah Maarman summed up the feeling of the meeting when she said: “Ons sal veg. En ek is nie bang om te staan want ek staan vir my land. (We will fight. And I am not afraid of standing up, because I am standing for my land).”
UNITED FOR VICTORY
The meeting ended with ideas and decisions about how to organise the campaign and carry it forward.
It was agreed to hold a march on December 16 to protest against nuclear power. The people would also demonstrate against the Tricameral Parliament and against the rape of their land.
The march was a success and was supported by over 500 people.
The meeting also decided to start a petition to send to the government. They hope to collect thousands of signatures. They asked newspapers and magazines like Learn and Teach to tell their story to South Africa and the world.
And they agreed to stand together against these threats. “Before this meeting,” says Charles, “not many people from the community knew about the dangers of nuclear power.
“Now we are united — the youth, the pensioners, the workers, the students. This way, and with the help of all those who love freedom and want to build a better future for our children, we can be sure that victory will be ours!”
You can read about nuclear energy and its dangers on the next page
If you would like to write and give your support to the people of Komaggas, write to the: Komaggas Civic Association c/o Charles Bezuidenhout Hoofstraat Komaggas, 8242
About Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy can be used to make electricity. In South Africa, there is only one nuclear power station — at Koeberg in the Cape. Usually in South Africa, electricity is made from coal. This produces a lot of ash and smoke. Many of South Africa’s coal power stations are in the Transvaal Highveld and there is a serious pollution problem in this area.
Nuclear power uses uranium to make heat and this produces electricity. It is much more efficient and cleaner than coal power. But it is also more dangerous. The waste produced by nuclear power can remain radioactive and dangerous for many thousands of years.
Most countries that make nuclear waste will not dump it in their own countries because they know it is too dangerous. There are also laws to stop them from doing this.
In South Africa, there are no laws to stop the dumping of nuclear waste.
The South African government has not signed the Basle Convention — an agreement that says that if you make waste, you must get rid of it yourself. The ANC has signed the Convention.
The dangers of a nuclear explosion are well known. If there is an accident at a nuclear power station, nuclear radiation can escape into the air. This can contaminate — or poison — water, the earth and even the air.
If a person eats or drinks something that is contaminated — or even breathes it — he or she will probably get cancer and die. The most common cancer is leukemia.
In 1986, there was a nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. Thirty people working in the factory died straightaway and thousands were poisoned. Many millions more will die painful deaths in years to come. 118 000 people had to leave their homes because they were in danger of being contaminated. Cattle, goats and even fish in the sea died or had to be killed.
Radioactivity can harm even unborn babies. Some children born to parents who came into contact with radioactivity were born with arms and legs missing. Some were also born with cancer. There is another danger caused by radioactivity — that of not ever being able to have children.
NEW WORDS environment — the environment is everything around us — the trees, the water and so on incinerator — a nuclear waste incinerator burns waste pollution — dirt in the air or water efficient — something that is efficient works fast and well