Nuclear-Free Future

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17 November 2016

Alfred Manyanyata Sepepe

Alfred Sepepe was born 1952. His work in South Africa’s former Pelindaba nuclear bomb factory earned him testicular cancer. In recent years he became the champion of all those who have suffered health problems from South Africa`s nuclear industry and fight for compensation. In which field and against which background does Alfred Sepepe fight?

In the Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town, in the former bomb factory Pelindaba or at the nuclear waste deposit Vaalputs a number of workers were fired when they showed signs of disease. Hardly any of these incidents became known to the public. In 2000, a spectacular single case: the accidental death of a young academic in Pelindaba, alerted the public – a public that had been oblivious to nuclear dangers before.

With the catchword „Pelindaba“ it suddenly seemed possible to break the cartel of silence. The Minister of Energy promised, „We will turn every stone“ to determine the circumstances of death of the young academic. Then around 500 ex-Pelindaba workers demanded compensation for „occupational injury sustained at the workplace”. In addition, the Minister promised the allocation of substantial funds to investigate deaths in the vicinity of the nuclear industry. Neither the one nor the other of the Minister‘s promises yielded any results.

Alfred Sepepe became active with the NGO „Earthlife Africa Johannesburg“ and persuaded many of the 500 ex-Pelindaba workers with suspicious symptoms in his township Atteridgeville to let themselves be examined by Dr. Murray Coombs, a Pretoria-based occupational health expert. The doctor found suspicious signs in 75% of the workers and presented eleven cases to the Compensation Commissioner. He also noted that further medical examinations were urgently neede urgently for most of the other workers so that conclusive findings could be made on them.

But there were neither medical check-ups nor was there compensation. Since then, many of the people Dr. Coombs examined have died, including those that had petitioned the national parliament in 2007 on Alfred Sepepe’s initiative and under his leadership.

The South African Nuclear Energy Society (NECSA) countered with a „What’s all the fuss about?“ study and prevented a test case suit in the Pretoria Supreme Court by claiming the need for secrecy. The national nuclear regulatory authority (NNR) did not become active in the matter – even though Parliament had asked it to do so.

So nothing happened? Wrong! The physician Dr. Murry Coombs, who had found radiation damage, came under massive pressure. Sepepe had to recognize that the victims are left alone. Neither the government nor other politicians, neither unions nor locally based lawyers were willing to investigate, let alone help. And so Sepepe became a full-time one-man resistance fighter and the only hope for the survivors of those who died from radiation damage with a sense of hopelessness. Sepepe framed proposals, repeatedly alerted the public … and resisted the attempted bribery by NECSA, whose minions had obviously realized that their opponent had depleted his small pension in the fight against them. There followed anonymous death threats and, fearing for his life, Sepepe repeatedly had to go into hiding

Sepepe has not ceased to uphold the claims of the people lethally injured, he has not given up legally, via contact with the media or morally. The Nuclear-Free Future Award honors him with a deep bow and a promise: It may seem so, Alfred … but you are not alone!