South Africans reeled in shock on Saturday following the death of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Edith Bowo Molewa, 61, on Saturday morning.
Molewa reportedly fell ill while on a state visit to China hosted by President Xi Jinping in Bejing at the beginning of September.
President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed the death of Molewa on Saturday, saying she had died in a Pretoria hospital after a period of illness.
Born in 1957 in Bela-Bela, Limpopo, she was trained as a teacher after finishing high school.
She became involved in the struggle in the 1970s and was active in the trade unions before later rising to the position of deputy president of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union (SACCAWU).
According to the department’s website, Molewa was the deputy chairperson of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) in Ga-Rankuwa from 1992 to 1994. She was elected provincial treasurer of the ANC in the North West from 2001 to 2004 before becoming the provincial chairperson in 2005 while also holding the Women’s league chairperson position.
From 2004 to 2009 Molewa served as the second premier of North West.
She was appointed the ANCWL head of communications in 2013 and was elected to its executive committee in 2013, a position she held until her death.
Molewa became a member of the party's national executive committee in 2013 and was also the head of the ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee.
Before being appointed water and environmental affairs minister in 2010, Molewa was the minister of social development and the first female premier of the North West.
In 2014, the ministry of water and environmental affairs was split during a Cabinet reshuffle by former President Jacob Zuma and she was appointed minster of environmental affairs.
Molewa was a member of the ANC's national executive committee and national working committee, as well as a Cabinet minister at the time of her passing.
The ANC says her passing has left "the country poorer".
"Her passing on has left the ANC and the country poorer given her role in advancing the country’s agenda for fundamental social transformation," ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe said in a statement on Saturday.
Ramaphosa said: "This is a devastating loss to our nation and to the global community who owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Minister Molewa for her championship nationally and globally for the environmental integrity of a sustainable planet Earth that can be shared and enjoyed by all nations and all people, rich and poor."