Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: GCIS
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: GCIS

Environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa has died at the age of 61, after she was hospitalised on September 8.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has described Molewa's death as a "devastating loss" for the country and the world.

In a statement‚ 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.

"Minister Molewa has distinguished herself in many capacities and causes from her contribution to our liberation to fighting for equality of women in our society. We shall miss her greatly."

Ramaphosa has declared a period of mourning with immediate effect and ordered that the national flag be flown at halfmast countrywide and at South African diplomatic missions abroad.

Molewa was a member of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) as well as the ANC Women's League national working committee. Tourism minister Derek Hanekom has been acting in her role since her hospitalisation.

On 30 April 2004 she became the first female premier of the North West provincial government‚ a post she filled until 2009.

Molewa was also the first and remains the only female to ever become the provincial chairperson of the ANC and in 1994 she became the first female to be chairperson of the portfolio committee on trade and industry.

Before being appointed minister of water and environmental affairs in 2010‚ among other government accolades, she served as MEC for social development.

At national government level‚ Molewa briefly served as minister of social development in 2009‚ but in 2010 became the minister of water and environmental affairs after a cabinet reshuffle‚ replacing Buyelwa Sonjica.

Four years ago the department was split and Molewa became minister of the new department of environmental affairs‚ a position she held until her death.

It was under her stewardship of the environmental affairs department that the historic Paris Agreement to combat climate change was signed at the United Nations in April 2016‚ a global feat that she was credited as playing a large part in.

For this‚ she was awarded one of France’s top honours in July‚ the Officier de ’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (an Officer in the French Legion of Honour). The honour celebrates accomplishments of distinguished individuals‚ irrespective of where they are from.