President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed the late Dr Vuyo Mahlati as a land reform champion and a tireless advocate for the empowerment of smallholder farmers and rural women.
"This 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," President Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.
The President joined the chorus of condolences following Dr Mahlati's passing on Tuesday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, colleagues and friends at this difficult time, and the entire country mourns her loss," the President added.
Mahlati who passed away at the age of 55, was the President of the African Farmers' Association of South Africa (AFASA) and the former Chair of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
The President has expressed condolences also on behalf of Deputy President David Mabuza, who convened the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
Dr Mahlati was a social entrepreneur, women's rights activist and policy specialist who served as a member of the inaugural National Planning Commission.
She was a respected leader who held senior roles in the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) as well as on the South African Post Office (SAPO) Board.
Dr Mahlati also served as Deputy Chairperson of the Panel of Experts tasked with developing an Integrated Urban Development Framework for the country. She held a number of corporate roles and directorships.
The Presdident said the country's land reform processing is gaining momentum with the release of the revised Land Expropriation Bill.
"South Africa's land reform process is gaining momentum, guided by the recommendations of the Presidential Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture that was ably led by Dr 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," said the President.
As Chair of the Advisory Panel and through her leadership in AFASA, Dr. Mahlati was vocal about the need for black farmers and rural women to be brought into the mainstream of the sector.
She worked closely with smallholder farmers and businesses, and believed it was critical that rural entrepreneurs be included in value chains to enable them to access international markets.
Dr Mahlati also served two consecutive terms as President of the International Women's Forum (IWF) South Africa.
"She will be remembered for her passion for empowering women, and having established the country's first commercial cashmere production facility in the Eastern Cape, she had both in-depth knowledge and experience of the challenges women farmers face," President Ramaphosa said.
The President said that the African Farmers' Association of South Africa (AFASA) had a great responsibility to take forward Dr Mahlati's work.
"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," the President said.
Also paying tribute to Mahlati, Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said Dr Mahlati will be remembered on how she touched many lives with her smile and energy.
"Always engaging to find solutions to the many challenges that our country face, more so in agriculture, rural development and land reform matters. In a number of areas where she served, she always went an extra mile to ensure success and excellence," Didiza said.
Didiza said that the farming sector and the landless will remember her and her leadership as the Chairperson of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture.
"She was eager and always showed interest how government working in partnership with the private agricultural role-players can solve problems across the sector. Her death has robbed us [of] her valuable contribution in the development of South Africa's agriculture and agribusiness sector plan, as the country continues to work on strategies for fostering inclusive growth from the shock of the pandemic," said the Minister.
The Minister also thanked Mahlati's husband, Gilimamba Mahlati and the children for sharing their mother with the nation.
Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Director-General Phumla Williams also extended condolences to her family, friends and colleagues on Tuesday.