Liz McDaid and Makoma Lekalakala have been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for their role in stopping a controversial nuclear deal between South Africa and Russia.
Now they are urging other women to step up and fight against injustice.
“I think it’s like when you come up against bullies, at a certain point, you actually say enough is enough,” Ms McDaid said.
“It’s within the grasp of ordinary people. Let the politicians keep shouting, but let’s get on and make a difference.”
The fight of their lives
The two women, both aged in their 50s, one white and one black, took on the South African government in 2014.
Together they led a campaign to stop a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia, to build a series of nuclear power stations in South Africa.
The agreement had not passed through the normal checks, balances and scrutiny of parliament.
South Arica had also signed deals with the United States and South Korea.
Ms Lekalakala believed the project was unsafe, unnecessary and unaffordable.
“This deal was literally going to bankrupt the country,” she said.
“For us, challenging the abuse of power and protecting our constitutional right, this is fundamental.”
Their organisations – Earthlife Africa and the Southern Africa Faith Communities Environmental Institute – teamed up with other groups, including environmental lawyers, to take on the government.
Ms McDaid said she was confident she and Ms Lekalakla, along with their supporters, would win.
“I think what is really nice is that in a world that is often being led by men, this was a space where two women could actually work together,” she said.
“We have the same sort of energy, same attitudes and value system. So, we worked very well together.”
The environmentalists filed a case against the President of South Africa, the Department of Energy and the Speaker of Parliament.
“To say no nuclear energy should proceed without having satisfied all the legislative and regulatory processes,” Ms McDaid said.
On the 26th of April 2017, the High Court in Cape Town found the government had not followed due process.
As a result, the deal was declared invalid and unconstitutional.
Ms Lekalakala and Ms McDaid began their activism against the apartheid regime in the 1980s.
Ms McDaid said people should not believe the story that they are powerless.
“We do live in a democracy, we have the right to stand up, we have the right to protest, and so people must use it.”