Molewa was a true environmental activist. She will be missed

Members of the ANC Women’s League sing during the funeral service of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Saturday. Molewa, who died at the age 61, was hailed as a woman of courage and principle who was widely respected on the world stage. Picture: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times/Gallo Images
Members of the ANC Women’s League sing during the funeral service of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Saturday. Molewa, who died at the age 61, was hailed as a woman of courage and principle who was widely respected on the world stage. Picture: Alaister Russell/Sunday Times/Gallo Images

This past weekend, Dr Edna Molewa was sent to her final resting place, enclosed in a biomass of invasive plant made in the eco-furniture factory she spearheaded.

During the service, the pastor who ministered the occasion quoted 1 Samuel 20:18. “Then Jonathan said tomorrow we celebrate the new moon festival. You will be missed when your place at the table is empty.”

This verse really tickled my soul when it dawned on me that the camera that used to capture the moment of her work as the minister was now taking a different angle of her life. The spontaneous click-clack of my camera shots will now miss her during the marathon of events we host. What is left of me and the camera will be the relationship we forged over the past four years as her cameraman and social media officer responsible to profile her department’s work.

As if the pain of losing her was not excruciating enough, reality hit home when I saw the empty office she used to occupy on the third floor of our Environment House building, leaving me with the melancholy of continuing my communications work without her.

During her official state funeral, it was unusual for me to capture the emotive and sombre moment, while listening to tribute after tribute eulogising about her life. My camera missed her zest, infectious smile and her innocent giggle that she trademarked.

Walking into what used to be her office on Monday, an eerie silence could be felt and what used to be a vibrant atmosphere was so peculiar. The chair that used to be her throne for environment issues was empty and looking at it I could only imagine the energy she possessed, the punctuality she enforced on her staff and her pragmatic issues of dealing with environment matters.

A vivid memory about her love of the environment was during the signing of memorandum of understanding in the field of biodiversity conservation and management in Pretoria with the former minister of environment and fisheries of the Republic of Chad, Dr Ahmat Mbodou Mahamat. During the signing it was agreed that rhinos should be translocated to Chad and the world needed to know about it.

As I was taking pictures, she noticed that I did not have a cellphone in my hand for social media use. That is when she suggested that I should first have my device ready because the talks were of international importance.

True to her word, Chad witnessed the return of rhinos in their country when they were translocated in May.

Minister Molewa was a true champion for the environment. Not that she was executing her job by virtue of her portfolio, but she was a fountain of wisdom and an environmental activist. Her passion for the environment was sometimes mistaken for arrogance and the only way I knew how to deal with her petulance was to have the camera hanging over my neck and the cellphone in my hand. Her stance against rhino poaching knew no limits and her Not on our Watch mantra was a signature she mastered with aplomb.

The last event we had with her was in Venda during the biodiversity economy conference prior to her trip to China, where she fell ill. She looked cheerful as always and mingled with ordinary people of Venda, oblivious that she was signalling that the eye that sees her would see her no more. I was supposed to meet her in the Kruger National Park, where she was to attend the Parks Week event. Unfortunately I received a call from the office that her trip had been cancelled due to her illness.

During her funeral, it really dawned on me that tomorrow was not guaranteed. When I saw her coffin, made of a biomass of invasive plant, from the eco-furniture factory, the programme she piloted to create jobs for previously unemployed youth, that was when I really confirmed that she was a trendsetter. She really walked the talk. I will always cherish the moments I worked with her.

As we continue her legacy, she will always be missed and her place at the table is now really empty.

Madimetja Jerry Mogotlane works for the department of environmental affairs within the communications section and worked closely with the late minister.

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