True to Edna Molewa’s character as an environmentalist and a champion for climate change, the late minister of environmental affairs wanted to be buried in an eco-coffin.
This wish was materialised on Saturday, said President Cyril Ramaphosa during a eulogy for Molewa in Pretoria.
“This wish has been realised through the provision of the wonderfully crafted coffin, made from invasive alien timber, that we see before us today. She was a daughter of the South African soil, with deep love for nature, for her country and for the African region.”
Ramaphosa detailed the work Molewa did for nature conservation as the minister of environmental affairs, saying that she often led from the front and executed her role with diligence, excellence and dedication.
“She lent immense stature and gravity to the role. She was a key figure in international environmental governance and was a leading voice in the development of and the subsequent adoption of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
“She has ensured that the conservation of the environment has become a catalyst to advance the objectives of the National Development Plan.”
The president added that it was under Molewa’s leadership that South Africa formulated its first National Climate Change Response Policy and National Adaption Strategy.
“We have lost a leader who was widely respected on the world stage, due in large part to her role in the global effort to combat climate change.
“South Africa and the international community has lost a true champion of the cause of environmental justice and sustainability as a foundation for equitable socio-economic development.”
He said Molewa will be forever remembered by South Africans for her efforts to conserve the country’s wildlife, particularly rhinos.
“She had promised us that rhino would not go extinct on her watch, and this has been proven to be both prescient and true,” said Ramapohsa.
“And yet, while we should welcome the fact that rhino poaching figures on the decline, we know that there is yet much more to be done. The fight against poaching is not over, and we who remain must take it up with as much determination and passion as our dear sister did.”
Ramaphosa also spoke about Molewa’s past as a struggle stalwart during apartheid.
“She will be remembered for her unwavering belief in constitutionalism, in democratic values, in the unity of the South African people, and in the central role of government in forging a society based on freedom, justice and human rights for all.
“She was a woman of courage, of extreme professionalism, and, above all, of principle. These are qualities she displayed from her early years, and which guided her throughout her rich political and professional life.”
He said Molewa was a young teaching student at the famed Hebron College in the 1960s when the first stirrings of political activism were awakened and she first began to identify with the aspirations of the then banned ANC.
“It was a dark time. Apartheid was at its height and the student and labour movements were actively working underground to overthrow the National Party government,” he said.
Molewa participated in the ANC underground, in the liberation army Umkhonto we Sizwe, in the civic movement and later in the trade union movement.
“For her loyalty to the liberation struggle she paid a harsh price. She was detained countless times.”
Ramaphosa said she was arrested in 1989 while still nursing her infant son and held in solitary confinement for six months.
“She has left this mortal world, but her work and her legacy is all around us. It is in the rich African soil, it is in our clear blue skies, it is in the abundance of our oceans, in the unique plants and the bountiful wildlife that we cherish and respect and preserve.
“Her legacy lives on in the people of this great land, as they strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, to build the free, equal and just society to which she dedicated her very being.”
Molewa, 61, died on September 22 of Legionnaire’s disease in a Pretoria hospital.
Various dignitaries and politicians attended the funeral, including Deputy President David Mabuza, Gauteng Premier David Makhura, Minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and former presidents Jacob Zuma, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe.