Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa said Mahlati’s death is a “great blow to the agricultural fraternity and to the country as a whole; more so at a time when much of our work around land reform is coming to fruition.”
While the cause of Mahlati’s death has not been confirmed, Food For Mzansi has learnt that the 55-year-old women’s rights activist and policy specialist was discharged from hospital on Monday – a few hours before her death. In the last month, Mahlati has had frequent visits to the hospital due to leg problems.
Mahlati’s daughter, Lilitha, today acknowledged the support from all corners of Mzansi following her mother’s sudden death. In a heartfelt Facebook message she said, “Our family has noted the outpouring of love and sympathies, and (we’re) wholeheartedly grateful for it.”
Among the condolers count Ramaphosa who described the chairperson of his advisory committee on land reform and agriculture as a “land reform champion who tirelessly advocated for the empowerment of smallholder farmers and rural women”.
The president added, “South Africa’s land reform process is gaining momentum, guided by the recommendations of the… panel that was ably led by Mahlati. With the release of the revised land expropriation bill and the state-land release programme, we are demonstrating our seriousness about using agriculture and farming as catalysts for economic inclusion.”
Afasa challenged to move agriculture forward
Ramaphosa said Afasa now has the great responsibility to take Mahlati’s work forward. “She has left behind a formidable legacy and it would, no doubt, have been her wish that Afasa remains a strident and activist voice for the transformation of the sector, and a vital contributor to the land reform process.”
Meanwhile Thoko Didiza, minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, said she too is saddened by Mahlati’s death. “Her death has robbed us of her valuable contribution in the development of South Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness sector plan. (It comes at a time when) … the country continues to work on strategies for fostering inclusive growth from the shock of the pandemic.”
‘Mahlati unlocked value for agriculture’
With her smile and infectious energy she touched many lives, said Didiza, and she built networks beyond the boundaries of Mzansi. “Africa was also her home. She remained, to the end, a role model to many of us, old and young.”
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede honoured Mahlati as a pioneer that positioned positioned farmers’ interests at the centre of agricultural development. The organisation’s president, Pierre Vercueil said, “Everyone who has worked with her can attest to the value that she unlocked for the industry.”
The chairperson of the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda), Dr Siyabonga Madlala, said, “The agricultural sector and black farmers in particular, have suffered a big blow. Kuwe umuthi omkhulu.” Safda’s deputy chairperson, Lee Hlubi, described Mahlati as a sister and a mentor. “She took me under her wings. As women leaders, we have lost a great role model.”
Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo, who served under Mahlati on Ramaphosa’s land reform and agriculture panel, said in Business Day, “Mahlati gave so much of her life to trying to improve the lives of all South Africans. She fought for the prosperity of all, and to make the agricultural sector more inclusive, both in terms of race and gender,”
“Dr Vuyo Mahlati always found a way of making sure that everyone’s views were heard and considered in the thinking of land reform matters.” – Wandile Sihlobo
Besides her work in agriculture, Mahlati was executive chairperson and a founding member of the Siyaya Media Network which produces Moja Love, a DStv channel. In a media release the channel described Mahlati as the stern voice of reason and caution for the business. “She was the moral compass of the business that set out to speak to South Africa in a different voice; in the plurality of language and cultures that is our beautiful country.”
Details of memorial services
Mahlati was the founder of Ivili Loboya, Africa’s first indigenous wool processing plant in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. It achieved international success with the Ivili Loboya cashmere sought after in Europe and the United States.
Besides her illustrious career as a farmer, Mahlati also held a number of key positions, including directorships. She was deputy chairperson of the panel of experts tasked with developing an Integrated Urban Development Framework for South Africa. According to Ramaphosa she also held senior roles in the State Information Technology Agency as well as the South African Post Office Board.
Afasa’s chairperson, Neo Masithela, confirms to Food For Mzansi that they will hold a memorial service for their leader on Saturday. Further details, also about other memorial services, will be communicated as soon as it is confirmed.
Mahlati leaves behind her husband, Dr Gil Mahlati, and children, Siseko and Lilitha.