Hecklers and near fisticuffs at the Thyspunt meeting!

Some attendees at the meeting on the EIA report on Thyspunt held at St Francis Links last night, have expressed their utter disgust at several people present who,  with drinks in their hands, heckled a highly respected nuclear physicist who travels the world to attend meetings.

One heckler lashed out with his arm to give this physicist, Dr Kelvin Kemm, a whack, which the latter just managed to dodge.  The SAP members in the foyer were summoned and three came and stood at the door for quite a while until things calmed down, but one sat down near the hecklers throughout the rest of the meeting.

“Some people were rude after having a few drinks,” one person commented after the meeting. “

 Other shocked members of the audience told this paper this morning that these few individuals’ actions brought shame to the respected area of St Francis and its residents!

It was suggested to St Francis Chronicle that perhaps the facilitators at such meetings, which take an important priority in our community, could arrange that they are held without alcohol being available for consumption. This is because for professional reasons these types of meetings would then more likely  be carried out in a more conducive manner to all concerned.

The expansive St Francis Links deck was fairly packed and most seats were taken. The facilitator, Antoinette Pietersen, and her team from Eskom Gibb consultants, Liz Nortje,  Sean O’Bernne and a Mr Naicker handled the hecklers comments and questions remarkably well. Also in attendance and responding to questions were Deidre Herbst, senior environmental office for Eskom and her superior at Eskom, Dave Nichols.

The aggressive comments started when Dr  Kemm, who said he was not paid by anyone to be at the meeting but who owns his own company, Nuclear Africa, stood up to share his views. Booing was heard and remarks were tossed out that that he was being paid by Eskom and that he reports to the Minister of Energy.

He said afterwards he was trying to respond to remarks from people who wanted answers.  He tried to explain he was able to answer their questions about nuclear but these people did not want to listen to him.

There was a comment that Dr Kemm did not live in St Francis and was not part of the community so should not have a right to speak.  Another commentator  complained he was talking more than the minute allowed to ask questions. One attendee suggested twice sternly and  unkindly that he shut up and sit down.

Pietersen told the audience that everyone was entitled to have a chance to say something and everyone else should allow the person speaking to air their views even if they did not agree with what he or she said. If everyone present did not want to abide with this ruling, the meeting could not proceed.

This order, together with the sudden visible presence of the police at the door and inside the enclosed deck, subdued those who were aggressive and the proceedings continued on a more amicable note, with Pietersen announcing that the minute had been added to by another 30 seconds and a member of the audience shouting out “time up” if any speaker talked overtime.

There were no big, new announcements and nothing really new was aired by anyone except what has been stated for the past 13 years or more. The same set of concerns were raised again by members of the community.  One important point mentioned by O’Bernne was that there are four more specialist studies that will be made available to interested and affected parties.

The comments aired ranged from the absurd, to the funny, to the political, to the serious, to the sobering and to those off topic.

Nichols had a great sense of humour and repartee. His remarks eased the tensions somewhat with the resultant laughter. Comments like ‘toss the baby out with the bath water’, ‘Whose fault it is? Who is responsible?” were dropped periodically by people in the audience.

Other comments included one from Kobus Reichart from the Khoisan/Gamkwa community who invited Dr Kemm to come to their next meeting and look the Khoi/Gamkwa people in the eye and tell them that their Heritage will potentially be destroyed. And the one from Greg Christy, who asked why no marine specialists were ever available at these meetings to discuss the impact on marine life.  

Gary Koekemoer of No Nukes PE, who spoke more than most, asked why no meetings on the possible nuclear at Thyspunt topic were ever held in Port Elizabeth. He also said nuclear would have an impact on the Alexandria Forest and dunes. He also spoke about the possibility of earthquakes.

At the end of the meeting we did learn that all comments from all the report back meetings will be available for public perusal late January or in February 2016.

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