The African National Congress (ANC) lowers its revolutionary banner in mourning on the untimely passing of our comrade; the leader, revolutionary, activist and patriot, Mama Bomo Edna Edith Molewa.
Comrade Edna passed away on the 22nd of September 2018 surrounded by family and friends, following a brief illness.
The ANC and the country has indeed lost an exceptional leader; who dedicated her life to the struggle for the liberation of our people; and upon attaining liberation continued to serve our glorious movement and her country with distinction. Uwile umti omkulu.
Comrade Edna, like many of those called upon by the ANC to serve in government, gave selflessly of their energies, talents and experience in pursuit of the ANC’s vision for A Better Life for All.
She knew and understood too well that emancipation did not end with our liberation, and would require the efforts of disciplined, dedicated cadres in order to stay the course. She heeded the words of President OR Tambo who said” “the fight for freedom must go on until it is won…until our country is free and happy and peaceful as part of the community of man, we cannot rest.”
She epitomized the kind of principled, ethical and selfless leadership that has been the bedrock of the ANC since its inception. At the time of her passing she was a member of the ANC NEC and NWC, and served as Minister of Environmental Affairs, a position she has held since 2014. A respected gender and women’s rights activist, she was also a member of the NEC of the ANC Women’s League, a position she retained since 2003. She also chaired the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee.
Her passing leaves a great void, especially in the subcommittees in which she served and in which she was such a valued and experienced contributor. Until 2017 she chaired the International Relations (IR) Subcommittee; it was under her stewardship that the IR Subcommittee provided the research and capacity support that paved the way for the passing of a number of ground-breaking foreign policy resolutions at the ANC’s 54th National Conference at Nasrec in 2017.
She believed firmly in the principle of collective leadership that defines our organization, and in remembering this we recall Andrew Carnegie’s words; that “no man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.”
Mama Edna was born in Bela Bela Province in Limpopo on 23rd of March 1957 and spent her formative years there; going on to train as an educator at the famed Hebron Training College – an institution that has produced many luminaries and successful alumni who have gone on to positions of leadership in South Africa and abroad.
Comrade Edna joined the liberation struggle at a young age, first through the ranks of the civics and trade union movement, but also was a member of the ANC’s liberation army Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).
For her loyalty to the liberation struggle she paid a harsh penalty, as she was targeted by the repressive state apparatus. She was arrested and detained countless times, and spent a year in solitary confinement soon after giving birth to her first child, who was cruelly taken away from her.
Mama Edna was a seasoned trade unionist with a lifelong commitment to the workers’ struggle and to the emancipation of black women workers in particular. Since the 1980’s she occupied a range of positions within the trade union movement.
This included as chairperson of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) at the Warmbaths Branch between 1984 and 1990, going on to become the Deputy President of SACCAWU. She was also one of the founder members of COSATU.
Our departed comrade’s life is a chronicle of ‘firsts’. Upon liberation she was among the first group of MP’s in the new democratic parliament – going on to make history as the first woman chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry. Her skills as a negotiator and arbitrator saw her appointed to the board of NEDLAC, that played a key role in the formation of the new South Africa’s economic policies.
She served her branch and provincial structures in the North West in various capacities; as chairperson of the ANCWL in the North West, as Deputy Chairperson of the ANCWL in GA Rankuwa and as provincial Treasure of the ANC. Mama Edna went on to become the first woman to be elected as a Provincial Chairperson of the ANC, in the North West Province, going on to become the first woman Premier of North West in 2004.
In the words of Douglas McArthur, a true leader does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of their actions and the integrity of their intent.
Such was Comrade Edna; a loyal cadre of the movement who gave her all to the positions to which she was deployed. It is testimony to the faith held in her by the ANC and its leadership and membership that until her passing she had served under each of South Africa’s presidents since the dawn of democracy.
She was a longstanding member of Cabinet, having served first as Minister of Social Development then of Water Affairs and finally as Minister of Environmental Affairs.
Comrade Edna was internationally respected for the important work she has done in the water and conservation fields, and it is thanks to her efforts that environmental issues have been elevated to provincial and national importance – a process that began when she was an MEC for Environment and Tourism in North West Province in 1996.
She is widely credited as being instrumental in the negotiations that led to the signing of the historic Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change. For this she was awarded the highest French National Order, the title of Officier de la Légion d’honneur in August this year.
This only added to a long and illustrious career of stellar achievement. In 2017 she was installed as the first black woman chancellor of Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, the first institution of its kind in post-apartheid South Africa.
As a gender activist, Mama Edna was a friend, comrade and mentor to many within the ANC; and was respected by her comrades in the ANC Women’s League; having also served as the ANCWL’s Spokesperson until 2016.
She was always at the forefront of women’s struggles in our country, and just months ago joined her comrades in the Total Shutdown March against gender-based violence in Kwa-Zulu/Natal. She also wrote passionately about various women’s issues for national and international newspapers on behalf of the ANCWL.
The ANC has declared this to be the Year of the Cadre, and the life of Comrade Edna offers valuable lessons on the kind of values we should emulate as cadres of the ANC.
As we go into campaigning for next year’s National Elections, Comrade Edna’s passion, drive and tirelessness during door-to-door campaigning will be sorely missed. She was kind, compassionate and had an infectious sense of humour – and served the organization unfailingly, despite her heavy and often punishing commitments to her work at national government level.
To the Family, the ANC is united with you in your grief. You have lost a sister, mother, daughter and grandmother. We feel your pain and share in your sorrow. Be comforted by the scriptures; that promise : ‘Happy are those who mourn, God will comfort them.’
Comrade Edna’s name is recorded in the history books –together with the other titans of our revolutionary movement; Mama Albertina Sisulu, Mama Adelaide Tambo; Mama Ruth Mompati, Mama Ruth First, Mama Lilian Ngoyi and Mama Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
You gave your all for your people, and for your country. Your contribution will never be forgotten.
Hamba Kahle Mbokodo! Robala ka Kgotso.