Margaret Ghogha Molomo

Margaret Molomo.jpg

Summary: Margaret Ghogha Molomo, a human rights activist, stands for environmental justice, preservation of culture, gender justice, and food sovereignty in South Africa. In 2014, she joined and became the coordinator of the Kopano Formation Committee, a pressure group in Mokopane, Limpopo Province. Her organisation fights climate change, environmental decay, the dearth of culture and heritage, and gender injustice caused by greedy mining companies, politicians, and leaders in government. Molomo uses her allowance to organise meetings with fellow community activists, and she continually faces threats from powerful individuals who are against her work. Nonetheless, she is undeterred, believing that fighting for the environment will guarantee a greener and sustainable future for generations to come.

Profile: Margaret Ghogha Molomo was born in Ga Kgubudi Mosesetjane village, an indigenous Ndebele-speaking community in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It is easy to trace what inspired Molomo's work for environmental justice: “I fell in love with nature while I was six years of age. I used to go farming and also taking care of my grandfathers' cattle, goats, donkeys, and sheep.” Her character and ability to fearlessly challenge patriarchal practices were also nurtured at a very tender age in the village. “I was the only girl amongst boys out there in the deep forest,” she says.

In 2010 Molomo, representing members of Masodi village, challenged platinum mining conglomerates such as Englo Plaats and Ivan Plants in Mokopane for polluting the environment, destroying the local heritage and culture, and not complying with national laws. “I became an environmental activist,” she remembers, “who campaigned against mining interests in defence of the rights to a healthy environment—clean water, clean air, and so forth.” In a report concerning the aforementioned mining companies in her community, Molomo asserted that “The mine has also been operating in their land without converting it from its agricultural zonation to one for mining.” In the same report, she blamed mining companies for attempting to exhume some of the community's graves without consulting them.

Molomo laments the negative environmental impacts of noncompliant mining operations on women in particular: “Women experience the most brunt of destructive mining operation, from having to look after their families who fall sick because of the contaminated air and water, walking long distances to fetch water since mining has dried up nearby boreholes, and to the endless cleaning of mining dust in their homes.”

Section 24 of the South African constitution provides for the right to a healthy environment, but not everyone follows that provision. Molomo challenged authorities after realising that the chief and his council had been bribed: “I stood by my community members when I was confronting the chief and his council at a one-community meeting at the tribal office for the first time. The chief and his council were under the payroll of the mine, and I fought so hard for that to be stopped,” said Molomo.

In 2014 Molomo joined the Kopano Formation Committee, which was started by activists coming from four villages, namely the Masetlhaneng Development Committee and the Masodi, Madiba, and Mozombane Task Teams. It has more than 2000 members, and Molomo is very active in it.

“We organise protest marches,” she says. “We call meetings for our communities to give feedback. We run workshops to empower our communities. We write appeals. We file papers in high court on our own without the help of NGOs. We also call government official meetings in their offices and we also write reports to the provincial and national governments. We take cases from our communities, especially the elders, in order to help in opening cases for them.”

Also in 2014, Molomo got members of her community to attend a crucial meeting on water rights organised by Limpopo Water Caucus in Polokwane. For Molomo, this was an opportunity to report the unethical business practices of one of the mining companies in her community. The company’s operations had caused water scarcity, making it difficult to for rural women to feed themselves. “I met with government officials of water sanitation, where I complained about Ivanplats’ mining operation, for they were mining without water use license,” said Molomo.

Molomo gives credit to various organisations that saw her potential and empowered her to be such a strong woman, a force to reckon with in the South African civil society and beyond: “I joined several organisations that have empowered me in my activism, for example, Bench Mark Foundation, where I become a community monitor in writing stories to alert the world in what we are facing as communities affected by mining. I also work with Corruption Watch to monitor operations of the mining companies. I also work with Green Peace, Lamusa, ARD, Natural Justice, among others. Again, in the very same year, I became a member of the Mining and Environmental Justice For Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON SA) and the Center for Environmental Rights.”

In 2017 Molomo became the Deputy Chairperson of MEJCON SA. In 2021 she rose through the ranks to become Chairperson, the most powerful position, to defend vulnerable communities affected by mining.

She has a great vision for her organization: “I want MEJCON to grow beyond South Africa,” said Molomo. As a sign of her leadership excellence, she was re - elected as Chairperson for the next two years.

Molomo’s philosophy hinges on collectivism as shown by the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” She promotes the preservation of indigenous culture, arguing that it is the source of stability and self-esteem for its people.

“In 2023,” says Molomo, “I stood up again for our teenage girls and boys to go to initiation school as our culture requires. It has been seven years without initiating our youth in Mokopane.” She won the battle: “Boys and girls are now women and men.”

Her view is that following the colonisation of African territories and the failure of modern African governments to restore the dignity of their people, most traditional and cultural practices have been demonised and weakened. In addition, there were financial issues: Molomo challenged traditional Limpopo leaders for forcing community members to pay exhorbitant fines, contrary to the law.

“Limpopo was the only province that traditional leaders were forcing community members to pay heavy fines,” says Molomo, “which was not even Gazetted in our constitution. With the help of LARC and the Nkuzi Development Association, we lodged a case in the Polokwane High Court against the traditional leaders of Limpopo. And we won the case against them.”

Molomo has earned international recognition for standing with and advancing the cause of rural women, and fighting mining communities in South Africa. She uses her stipend to pay for transport money for community members attending feedback and strategic meetings. Her challenging of rich mining conglomerates, powerful politicians, and traditional leaders, however, could have dire negative consequences, and she is aware of the risks.

An example: “In one public meeting, chief Kekana told me that I will see the sun rise but never see the sun when it goes down. I responded back to him that I am not afraid to fight for my community. . . . In 2016 December a group of white men from America called Black Sand called a meeting of all stakeholders of Mokopane. The Kopano formation committee was the last group they wanted to meet. They told us that they also met with our chief; [they said that] everything is well about the Ivan plats mine. We told them that . . . there is nothing going right about the mine. They started asking who is Margaret, who is Aubrey, all names of community leaders. When we googled ‘What Is This Black Sand’, we began to fear for our lives. We started to change our cell phones because they started calling us one by one. And [we had to hide our families] far from home for two months until we heard that they flew back to America.”

Molomo also recalls the attempted assassination of a fellow activist in her area: “One of our community leaders was shot during the night. Fortunately, he survived.” Other activists were not so lucky.

Despite the danger to her life and the lives of her loved ones, Margaret Ghogha Molomo is not deterred, believing in “putting others first before me. We never stopped. We will continue fighting.”