A sad farewell to Thabang Ngcozela
All of us at Environmental Monitoring Group, and the wider EMG family, are deeply
saddened at the passing of our dear and esteemed colleague, Thabang Ngcozela.
Thabang has been an inspiring and deeply respected leader in South Africa’s
environmental justice movement for the past 25 years. He has contributed with
committed, strategic leadership to the many networks he has been a part of, and his
passionate, politically rigorous, collaborative way of working has brought strength
and integrity to the collective struggle for environmental justice.
Born in the Eastern Cape, Thabang moved to Cape Town in the early 1990’s. He
was a co-founder of Ilitha Lomso and worked there as a youth educator, and through
this work came into contact with the environmental justice movement. He became
the Western Cape coordinator of the Environmental Justice Networking Forum in
around 2001, before joining EMG in 2005. He was a highly skilled network builder,
community development facilitator and organiser around a wide range of
environmental justice issues. Thabang was a founding member of the South African
Water Caucus (SAWC). In recent years he has become a facilitator of ABCD (asset-
based community development) and EDE (Ecovillage Design and Education), and
was inspired to share this approach with his community. Thabang said “As I was
born in the rural Eastern Cape, one of my interests has been to contribute in some
way to the place of my birth. My history of community activism during the apartheid
era further deepened my need to make more of a contribution. When I started
working at EMG, I saw the opportunity to take the work of the organisation back to
Thabang was an integral member of EMG’s water and climate change team. He
cared passionately about his work and helped build a practice of appreciative
enquiry with his colleagues. Thabang always encouraged us to articulate what
we were grateful for in each other. There are many things we, as colleagues, are
grateful for in Thabang, including his incredible political acumen, his insight into
social processes and his generosity of spirit. We also never (or seldom!) grew tired
of his storytelling and ice-breakers, in particular the story featuring a donkey...
Thabang mentored dozens of young activists, through reading groups, study circles,
drawing them into the networks, finding (or creating) internship opportunities, and
pushing them to find their voice, their confidence and their strength. He was an
extraordinary builder of organisations, and a committed socialist. He was also
curious, open hearted and always integrating new ideas and approaches into his
He moved back to his home village of Ngqwele in 2015, where he has dedicated
himself to implementing community led eco-village design, which he framed as
healing nature and healing ourselves. Speaking about this work, in villages of the
former Ciskei scarred by violence in the dying days of apartheid:
“There is personal healing that people have to go through, there is community
healing that needs to happen, and the relationship between people and the land
needs to heal. Talking to one another is the first step, but doing things for one
another that show our caring also helps”.
Thabang leaves behind a broad community of people who had the privilege of
working alongside him through the course of his life. We will all miss him
Lala ngoxolo Comrade Thabang.
Thabang will be laid to rest on Saturday the 18th of May in Ngqwele, Eastern Cape.