Two grassroots women activists – one black, one white – stand together against two of the world’s most powerful men – one black, one white – over a secret, undemocratic, multibillion dollar nuclear deal.
If this was the plot of a Netflix series, it might be dismissed as too neat, too perfectly symbolic and symmetrical.
But this is the true story of the two South African winners of this year’s Goldman environment prize who tapped their roots in the anti-apartheid struggle to take on and beat an agreement by their nation’s recently deposed leader Jacob Zuma and Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid were the sole signatories of a successful legal challenge against the plan for South Africa to buy up to 10 nuclear power stations from Russia at an estimated cost of 1tn rand ($76bn).
After a five-year legal battle, a high court outlawed the deal last April and accepted the plaintiffs’ claims that it had been arranged without proper consultation with parliament.
Aside from the immense geopolitical ramifications, the ruling was a vindication for the civil society movement that aims to expand public participation, especially by woman, in energy decision-making.
There were risks in confronting the president, the electricity utility and the interests of a foreign power. The two women were warned they could face violence and attacks on their reputation, but they signed the legal papers regardless.