Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa died on Saturday. File picture: ANA

Pretoria - Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has died after a short illness, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Saturday. 

Molewa, 61, passed away at a Pretoria hospital on Saturday, he said in a statement.

“I offer my deepest condolences to the family of minister Edna Molewa as well as to her colleagues in cabinet and across all spheres of government who have had the privilege to work alongside an extraordinary leader of our people.

“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,” he said.

Ramaphosa declared a period of mourning with immediate effect and ordered that the national flag be flown at half-mast at all flag stations countrywide and at South African diplomatic missions abroad.

Details of commemorative events and funeral arrangements would be announced in due course, he said.

Ramaphosa, who was due to travel to New York later on Saturday for his inaugural participation as head of state and government in the United Nations National General Assembly, would visit the Molewa family during the course of the day.

In a separate statement, African National Congress spokesman Pule Mabe said the party had learned "with sadness and sense of enormous loss the passing of Edna Edith Bomo Molewa", who had also been an ANC national executive committee (NEC) and national working committee (NWC) member at the time of her death.

"This sense of loss is beyond comprehension. Her passing on has left the ANC and the country poorer, given her role in advancing the country’s transformation agenda," he said.

Molewa had been and would always remain "a symbol of [a] rare social and political activist" who rose in the ranks of the democratic movement since her involvement in trade unions before joining the North West provincial government as MEC in various departments before being premier of the province. 

"Her role was noticeable and she was affirmed as a leader of the ANC NEC, NWC, and a cabinet minister in various departments. Our history as a country will not be complete without acknowledging the pivotal role that individuals like her played in enhancing the impact of the collective effort to make South Africa a better place.

"To her family, we want to thank them for having [made] available to the country and our people a true revolutionary who knew no other life than that of servitude and commitment to our people. We share in your loss and grief. May her soul rest deservedly in peace," Mabe said.

The Democratic Alliance on Saturday expressed sadness and at the death of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and paid tribute to her for her work in raising awareness of rhino poaching.

"The Democratic Alliance is saddened by the news of the passing of minister Edna Molewa,: DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends, as well as to the African National Congress. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.

"During her tenure as minister of environmental affairs, the minister did great work raising awareness around the scourge of rhino poaching. On this day, World Rhino Day, we honour her commitment to this noble cause. May her soul rest In peace," Steenhuisen said.

African News Agency (ANA)