Honour Suna Venter, support a referendum on nuclear power in South Africa

2017-07-01 09:54

Yesterday, it was reported that Suna Venter, a member of the group of journalists dubbed the SABC 8 after they first raised the alarm that journalistic integrity and editorial independence at the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) newsroom was being undermined under former Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, had died. According to reports, she died of stress cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that can literally be likened to suffering from a broken heart. Family and friends widely believe this condition was caused in (large) part by the heightened stress levels the events of the past few months had exerted on her. In addition to being fired from her job (though subsequently re-instated), these ranged from death threats to assaults that were suspected to be linked to the firm stance she and her colleagues took against the powers that be at the SABC who sought to manipulate the mandate of the public broadcaster in order to serve their own ends.

Her death warns us of the toll exerted on individuals who choose to speak out against abuses of power and the price they must be prepared to pay for doing so. Granted, this is a warning few South Africans are likely to need reminding of given our dark history of division and oppression where speaking out against the brutal apartheid regime guaranteed harassment or worse. Instead of lamenting the circumstances surrounding her death and bemoaning how far we as a nation have fallen since the heady days following the defeat of apartheid, we can choose to honour her memory and those of other courageous individual South Africans like community mining activist Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe and ESKOM whistleblower Thembisile Yende who recently also paid the ultimate price for choosing to stand up for what they believed in even when faced with intimidation and the threat of grave consequences. In this situation, the most appropriate way for us to honour their memory, and to relieve the tremendous pressure on brave individuals like them, is for each one of us to stand up to be counted rather than to expect to rely on people like them to speak out on our behalf when it comes to making important decisions on controversial issues that affect all of us.

The government’s controversial nuclear deal is an example of an area in which ordinary citizens could stand up and emulate their example of active citizenry. By calling for the government’s nuclear plans to be submitted to a referendum in particular, we would unburden people like Suna from bearing disproportionate responsibility to ask the right questions of policymakers for instance or to ensure that leaders do not abuse their power to advance narrow interests. This is because affording each citizen the right to act in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, as in a referendum, would presumably guarantee that a collective decision that takes all our views into account is arrived at. A referendum thus allows society to apportion the duties taken on by people like Suna and her colleagues in the SABC 8 and bestows responsibility to be vigilant that our collective values are not being usurped or undermined by those entrusted to make these decisions on all citizens.

If you believe this ought to be a shared duty and would like to assume responsibility for ensuring that any nuclear-related decisions that are made will be in the public’s best interests, then we invite you to join us in calling upon President Zuma to ‘Give South Africans a referendum on nuclear power NOW!’ by going to our facebook page (www.facebook.com/CRNPSA), liking it and signing the petitions that have been posted there. #nuclearpower #nuclearreferendum #nuclear #SouthAfrica

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