A personal tribute to Comrade Edna Molewa

03/10/2018. The offical memorial servive of the late Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa held at the Tshwane Events Centre in Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Many of us at a personal, professional and political level, have our memories of comrade Edna Molewa. It speaks volumes about the multi-dimensional human being that she was, that so many of us can relate our own exper iences of how she contributed to so many aspects of our personal lives and to the liberation struggle; and always did so with the greatest personal warmth combined with a breadth and depth of knowledge and commitment to our struggle that few among us can equal.

We can, individually and collectively, recall the terrible shock that we felt when we first heard the news that Edna Edith Bomo Molewa had passed on. She departed from us far too early, in the prime of her political career, and with so much that she could still contribute to South Africa and the liberation of our people.

Comrade Edna was a no-nonsense and very direct comrade, for whom the personal was political, and the political was personal. Thus, every bit of contact with her left one, also personally, in your heart encouraged and enriched. Those of us who worked with her will recall how she would give you that look with those big warm and inquisitive eyes, the head slightly skew, sometimes with a frown, but often with that disarming smile of hers, and even before she asked you how you are doing – which she always did – you already knew that she exactly knew how you were.

Comrade Edna’s interest in the personal, and especially emotional well-being of every comrade that she engaged with was genuine. There were those long telephone conversations, often late at night, which will range widely from personal chit-chat, often spiced up with her unique brand of biting humor and a good old laugh, but always concluding with a better understanding of the immediate tasks at hand, and what had to be done in order to execute those tasks and achieve results. Comrade Edna was nothing but practical, and she truly knew how to walk the talk!

She was one of the outstanding organic intellectuals of our struggle, and her ability to study and research and advance her knowledge of every ministry that she was entrusted with was legendary. Many comrades can attest how she urged and cajoled us to study further, and to improve our qualifications. However, her greatest strength was in how she combined all of that with a remarkable emotional intelligence that intuitively made it possible for her to relate to all of us, her fellow comrades, in a holistic and well-rounded personal manner.

Thus, I cannot avoid expressing personally how I feel, and how the wound of this terrible loss cuts deep into my soul. To me, comrade Edna was a dear and loyal friend and confidant. A comrade with strong principles and morals, clear political views that she expressed fearlessly, and a true pillar of strength. I will miss her dearly, and so will all of us in the ANC.

Comrade Edna’s roots were in the trade union movement, and she diligently served Cosatu in various senior leadership positions. She had never forsaken her strongly held pro-poor and pro-worker convictions. She was truly a product of our black toiling masses. Nothing was ever too much for her to do in the service of the liberation of our people. She was dedicated to the full liberation of black (especially African) South Africans, and the implementation of the Second Phase of our National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

In the pursuit of those strongly held ideals comrade Edna believed in discipline and organizational excellence. Sloppiness, and not paying attention to detail, was an almost unforgivable sin for her. Many of us had at some stage to face her irritation and wrath when she felt that we were not diligent enough in what we were doing.

Warm, engaging and humane as comrade Edna was, she did not suffer fools easily, and she was not amiss to dishing out a tongue lashing when she felt it was required. She remained in her heart a methodical trade union activist and administrator, who understood the power of proper processes and detailed record keeping. However, her insistence that things had to be done properly and professionally, was never petty or poisoned by power mongering games. It was always driven by an unrelenting commitment to service delivery, and an understanding that our people only deserve our best efforts in the struggle to build a better life for all.

Comrade Edna understood the debilitating and soul-destroying disempowerment of institutionalized poverty, and fought tooth and nail to release the masses of our people from its shackles. Thus, she was an unapologetic proponent of Radical Economic Transformation (RET). In every capacity where comrade Edna was deployed by the ANC, whether it was as Premier of the North-West Province, or during her long and distinguished career as a member of the National Executive (Cabinet) in various Ministries, she distinguished herself as a highly capable leader, that made black excellence and service to the people of South Africa her hallmark.

Comrade Edna was never uncertain or confused about the essence of her mandate in every ministry where she served. She was always unapologetically pro-poor – and pro-African – understanding that the vast majority of the poor in our country are black, and African. While comrade Edna was strongly committed to non-racialism, she never confused nonracialism with wishy-washy neo-liberalism. As a well-read intellectual of our Movement, who understood and internalized the history of the liberation struggle, she had no time for those who seem to think that ‘non-racialism’ can only be attained if the current status quo of white privilege and economic domination is defended and maintained. She was unequivocally clear that institutionalized white privilege, as a historical derivative of apartheid, had to be attacked and dismantled.

For her there was none of the nonsensical thinking that any attack on white privilege will lead to whites becoming offended, and therefore non-racialism will be undermined or even destroyed. She never fell into the insidious trap of thinking, or behaving, as if the defence of white privilege was the cornerstone for the ‘holy grail’ of non-racialism. Edna Edith Bomo Molewa was first and foremost a black, African, woman. She understood, without any confusion, that the best way she could serve the whole of South Africa was to first ensure the full liberation of black people from all the vestiges of apartheid, and every form of racist and sexist discrimination and exploitation. She was not a superficial so-called ‘nation builder’, but a true worker for and builder of a just South African nation, who appreciated that any hope of us South Africans one day truly being able to call ourselves a nation, had to be underpinned by the empowerment of black (especially African) South Africans through redressing the historical injustices of the past.

In comrade Edna’s mind there was no doubt that this demanded the return of our land, without compensation, to the rightful black indigenous owners from whom it was stolen by white colonists. She also had no doubt that the historical injustice of the theft of the land, up to this very day, underpins the institutionalized poverty of our people. She was never anti-white, but she was most certainly pro-black – and unapologetically and proudly so. This is one of the most important lessons of her great life that we have to honor and carry forward in our continuing liberation struggle.

Throughout her deployment as long-serving Minister of Enviromental Affairs she excelled, and placed our country truly on the map in the environmental field. Comrade Edna was hugely knowledgeable and concerned about the dangers of global warming, and understood that the exploited underdeveloped nations of the world (primarily the Southern hemisphere) faced the greatest danger from global warming. While a balanced and pragmatic diplomat she was fearless in her commitment that the rich industrial developed nations of the world (primarily in the Northern hemisphere) were the greatest polluters, and had to make major adjustments in order to save our planet, and to secure a decent life for all it’s inhabitants.

Comrade Edna commanded high respect in the world community of environmental affairs, she won awards for saving the rhino, promoting biodiversity and gained South Africa respect in the United Nations and other major international environmental forums. South Africa received accolades for the Paris Climate Change Agreement due to her hard work.

In recognition of her contribution the Republic of France gave her their highest order, the Officier de ’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (an Officer in the French Legion of Honour), as did the World Wide Life Fund. Here locally, in her beloved South Africa, her inauguration as Chancellor of Sefako Makgatho University was another well-deserved feather in her cap. When Operation Phakisa’s big fast results campaign was launched to kickstart economic growth in 2014, comrade Edna passionately led the flagship oceans economy segment.

She often shared her passionate, and big plans for her beloved country with me. One of her often stated goals was the creation of a million jobs by 2033 through maximizing the potential of our massive underutilized coastline. One of her latest passions was the #ThumaMinaGreenDeeds campaign which she had been promoting in the past few weeks. This campaign was given the nod of approval on Tuesday 18 September, as it was adopted by the President’s Coordinating Council in which the President meets Premiers and SALGA.

Comrade Edna was always deeply concerned, indeed pained, by the huge littering problem that we have in South Africa. Being the organic liberation intellectual that she was, she understood that the problem of littering was also a symptom of the grinding and dehumanizing poverty that black South Africans have been subjected to, and that it had to be approached as an integral part of our poverty alleviation programmes and efforts. She was determined to address the problem, and #ThumaMinaGreenDeeds is a proposed wall to wall clean up campaign aimed at creating a litter free South Africa. Every single South African should embrace this campaign, and make sure that it succeeds in comrade Edna’s honor. 

As we are in middle of observing the official period of mourning that President Ramaphosa announced in the run-up to comrade Edna’s official funeral, coming Saturday, let us remember comrade Edna as an underground liberation fighter during the long hard yearsof apartheid oppression, a trade union organizer of the black working class, as well as a long serving member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and National Working Committee (NWC) of the ANC.

Being part of the national leadership collective of the ANC she was always known to be a woman of principle who avoided narrow factionalism of any kind. Comrade Edna was whole-heartedly committed to the unity of the ANC. She hated factionalism, and the targeting and insidious purging of certain comrades because they had not at a specific political moment supported a particular individual. She always understood that the ANC is bigger than any individual, or individual agendas. Comrade Edna was not a gossiper, nor a back-stabber – she was a true and straightforward revolutionary worker, dedicated to the
full liberation of all – especially black – South Africans.

In remembering our dear and beloved sister and mother, let us not only mourn her passing, but also celebrate a dedicated revolutionary life well lived, and let us tirelessly continue with the long struggle for full liberation that still lies ahead, also in honor and celebration of her memory. Comrade Edna was a true warrior women in the long lineage of such warrior women of our struggle for liberation. She joins comrades Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikezela Mandela, Charlotte Mxenge, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi and many others in that long proud lineage. 

My heartfelt condolences go out to the family and loved ones of comrade Edna. The awful loss that we experience is even far deeper and more personal for them. Together with my fellow comrades we thank them from the bottom of our hearts that they so generously shared this very special woman liberation fighter with all of us in the ANC,

and in our country. We carry them in our thoughts and prayers.


Carl Niehaus is a veteran of the ANC, and former member of the NEC of the ANC. He is also a member of the NEC of MKMVA, and National Spokesperson of MKMVA. He wrote this tribute in his personal capacity.