The late minister of environmental affairs Edna Molewa was an environmental activist of note who knew her subject matter, according to Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor.
Pandor paid tribute to the late Molewa through a keynote address at the official state memorial at the Tshwane Events Centre in Pretoria on Wednesday.
"None of us imagined we would be in this place for such an occasion when we were with Minister Molewa in China just three weeks ago," Pandor told mourners in her address.
Molewa passed away on September 22 at Unitas Hospital in Pretoria from Legionnaires’ disease following a state visit to China in early September. She was 61 years old.
Pandor said the loss came at a time when Molewa was just beginning to bloom.
"We have lost a warrior woman of the people in her prime. Losses such as this one are beyond comprehension and beyond questioning. This national treasure began to bloom when she became minister; she had found her full passion," Pandor said.
"This is a passion that one rarely sees in politics."
Pandor reminisced on what she didn’t realise would be the last time she would spend with Molewa.
"During the state visit to China, comrade Edna was jovial and elegant, engaged and very happy, talking to each one of us in the delegation and taking lots of photographs," she recalled.
Pandor, who was full of praise for Molewa, said her legacy could only be remembered by turning back to leaders such as Albertina Sisulu and former president Nelson Mandela.
"She mirrors the worthy attributes of these worthy leaders. In July she received an esteemed honour from France and joined distinguished recipients of this honour such as Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Nadine Gordimer.
"She would have played a key role in re-asserting the true values and ethos of the African National Congress," she said.
Pandor also commended the great efforts by Molewa in achieving environmental sustainability, which was "no small feat".
"Protecting our flora and fauna against all odds is her lasting contribution to our generation. She has done great service for all of us and for generations to come," Pandor said.
"Comrade Edna, we shall never forget you, we shall never forget your example."
The official state funeral will take place on Saturday. Thereafter, Molewa will be laid in her final resting place at Zandfontein Cemetery in Pretoria West.