EARTHLIFE Africa (ELA), the environmental organisation started by ‘four bearded white men’ during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the banning of the End Conscription Campaign, transformed itself into a national movement headed by women, in the process winning awards.
One black woman in particular, ELA national director Makoma Lekalakala has been named co-winner of the prestigious Goldman Award alongside Liz McDaid of SAFCEI, a Southern African multi-faith institute addressing environmental injustice.
The pair received global accolades for building a powerful coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. This is the first time that a director of Earthlife Africa has received the award.
ELA, alongside SAFCEI, has a long and illustrious history of grassroots activism and coalition-building on environmental justice issues.
From the early days of the environmental alliance with workers affected by mercury poisoning (Thor Chemicals) and asbestos, (both well-known international cases), to several coalitions which evolved around various nuclear deals — the now mothballed R10bn PBMR programme and subsequent programmes — Earthlife Africa has always sought to mobilise issues affecting the earth, human health and human habitat.
The connection between ‘earth rights and human rights’ was a crucial dimension of the broad campaign to include ‘ecological sustainable development’ in South Africa’s constitution. A key element of our democracy.
Defending article 24 via a broad-based environmental justice movement has been a key to the success of the organisation and its latest coalition with SAFCEI.
It would therefore be in remiss if we failed to recognise earlier precursors, the Nuclear Energy Cost the Earth Campaign (NECTEC), which teamed up with the community of Kommegas and Richtersveld, as well as workers in Atlantis opposed to Koeberg and Nuclear One. ELA Cape Town under Maya Aberman made extensive submissions to Parliament.
While the later emergence of the anti-nuclear umbrella organisation known as CANE, which aside from the communities of Eastern Cape (Thyspunt) and Overberg (Bantamsklip), in many respects, dissipated anti-nuclear activism on the ground, failing to draw experience from previous epochs of anti-nuclear activism.
NECTEC as a non-racial campaign can be seen as a precursor to later coalitions which evolved around national health insurance. In this instance, ELA teamed up with People’s Health Movement, and Section 27 to promote universal health coverage.
The latest round of coalition-making under the auspices of Makoma and McDaid, has certainly brought home success and international attention.
We wish ELA and SAFCEI well in the future.