Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
Photo by Moeletsi Mabe/ Sunday Times/Gallo Images/
- It was unlawful for Minister Gwede Mantashe to fire anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker from the National Nuclear Regulator’s board, a court has ruled.
- Court papers show Mantashe made the call because he believed Becker’s personal interest conflicted with his duties.
- Becker, who was dismissed in February 2022, had launched a court bid to challenge his axing.
- For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s axing of anti-nuclear activist Peter Becker from the National Nuclear Regulator’s (NNR) board was unlawful, a high court has ruled.
The judgment was delivered by Judge Babalwa Pearl Mantame at the Western Cape High Court on Thursday.
The decision of the Minister taken on 25 February 2022 to discharge Mr Becker with immediate effect is declared unlawful, unconstitutional and invalid … The reasons and decision of the Minister taken on 25 February 2022 to discharge Mr Becker from his office as a director of the board is reviewed and set aside.
The NNR is the regulator of nuclear safety in South Africa.
Becker was appointed to the NNR board in June 2021, having been 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 has publicly stated that those resisting nuclear power while serving on the board of the NNR would be fired.
“If you resist nuclear and you [are] a board member, I fire you, simple. You can’t be in a board of something you’re not advocating for,” he told delegates at the ANC Eastern Cape conference in May 2022.
Becker, in court papers, had denied that he has a conflict of interest, and argued that holding or expressing critical and alternative views does not constitute misconduct.
It was revealed in court papers that shortly after his appointment, in his capacity as KAA spokesperson, Becker was quoted criticising nuclear power and raising concerns over the safety of the Koeberg nuclear plant. The article mentioned he had been recently appointed to the National Nuclear Regulator’s board.
At the time, Becker had not been inducted to the board and had not signed a performance agreement.
The court considered that Becker and other new board members appointed on 10 June 2021 were only appraised on how to conduct themselves until early July 2021 – nearly a month after their appointment. Becker had signed his individual performance agreement and was only made aware of the regulator’s media policy and other laws applicable to state-owned entities after 5 July 2021.
“These documents though it was said that they were effective from the date of appointment (10 June 2021), in my view they cannot have a retrospective effect. One cannot be held liable for an (sic) information that has not yet come to his/her attention. The effective date should be the date of signature,” the judgment read.
The ruling also noted that there did not appear to be any “constructive engagement” between the board and Becker on how to conduct himself after he made statements for the online magazine.
“In my opinion, the chairperson of the board would have done much greater to invite Mr Becker in an informal or formal meeting … to counsel him on how to conduct himself publicly as a newly appointed member of the board,” Judge Mantame said.
The court also highlighted that Becker was not advised that it would “not bode well” for him to continue in both positions – namely spokesperson of the KAA and board member of the NNR – simultaneously. The judgment indicated that the way the board handled the matter following the publication of the article was “not commendable”.
“In my view, Mr Becker’s conduct should have been dealt with better and in a more constructive manner than the one that presents itself before Court. It would not have escalated to this level if the board had managed it pragmatically and in a more professional manner,” Mantame said.
Peter Becker says he is ready to resume his duties on the NNR board.
The DMRE and NNR have not yet responded to News24’s request for comment. The article will be updated should comment be received.
Becker said there would be communication between himself and the NNR. “I am ready to resume my duties,” he told News24.