It is not every day you meet somebody who fortifies your attitudes about every day events so drastically, that you find yourself completely blindsided by your assumptions and beliefs. This happened to me the day I collected Ms. Ayako Oga from the airport on Sunday 26th February.
I have been part of the Anti-Nuclear project team at Greenpeace Africa for a few months now, and we have been excitedly planning and preparing for Ms. Oga’s arrival; a witness who had her life and everything she knew taken away from her one fateful day in March 2011. We have lectures planned at universities, community meetings, media events and even a parliamentary address. By the time we left for the airport on Sunday morning, I felt I was as prepared as could be for this project, but my world was about to be changed, again.
Long before I started working for Greenpeace Africa I already had a strong belief that nuclear power, in any shape or form, was a bad idea. There has never been any success story attached to the tag line 'Nuclear', there has only ever been devastation, destruction, contamination... words that leave my skin crawling. Listening to Ms. Oga during her press briefing yesterday, I again was overcome with emotion.
As a journalist asked “I heard that many Japanese farmers killed themselves after the nuclear meltdown, is this true?”, our faces turned slowly, carefully towards Ms. Oga, afraid of the answer, because, in our heart of hearts, we all knew the answer, “yes”.
In South Africa, the government has already planned the building of 6 new nuclear reactors, despite public protest and outcry. For a country that relies so heavily on subsistence farming, how could we assume this will not affect the everyday survival of thousands of farmers in the Cape, where Koeberg is situated, or wherever they decide to build these monstrous facilities?
I had no trouble thinking that we would be met with keen interest from the media with this story, but my mind lingered on the communities we were set to meet, how would they react? Power supply is in high demand in an ever-expanding South Africa, how can we look into the eyes of those communities already struggling for electricity and basic rights, and tell them that nuclear is the wrong direction? As we drove along towards the Kwa Thema community in Springs on Monday afternoon, my mind wandered to the different scenarios we might meet as we arrived.
Contrary to all my fears, when we got out of our cars we were welcomed by a chorus of singing and dancing, banners reading “No Nuclear” and “Renewable Energy is People’s Power” flanked the stage. Communities like this one need to be heard by the government, they are calling for a change, calling for knowledge, waiting to be heard. As Ms. Oga began to tell her story, the crowd reacting with sympathy and anger, I felt that I was, at once, exactly where I needed to be, communicating the truths of nuclear energy and the potential of renewable energy in South Africa.
When we left the community late that afternoon, I watched the sunset falling lazily over the Johannesburg skyline, and I thought of hope.
I hope that South Africa listens, and remembers that the power stands with the people. I hope that this could be a reminder to the South African government to remember to listen to the people of South Africa, to put their best interests first for a safe, reliable future.
Nuclear is never safe. It destroys the environment, it destroys lives. I find myself asking, if we cannot learn the Lessons from Fukushima, what will we learn from?