Popo Simon Molefe (born 1952) has been part of the liberation struggle in South Africa since the early seventies. He was prominent during the 1976 Soweto students' uprising and played a significant role in the leadership of the South African Students' Movement, part of the Black Consciousness movement. He joined the Black People's Convention and later became a founding member of the Azanian People's Movement (APM) in 1978. He left the APM in 1981 and became aligned with the African National Congress (ANC), deeply under the influence of Joe Gqabi and Nelson Mandela's thinking.
Molefe was also prominent in the formation and activities in the Soweto Civic Association and the "Committee of Ten" as it was then called. He was also one of the founding members of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983, along with resistance leaders such as Murphy Morobe. His UDF activities lead to his 10-year jail sentence by Judge Cees van Dijkhorst in the famous Delmas Treason Trial (1985-89) with Mosioua "Terror" Lekota and others.
He became a member of the ANC's national executive committee as well as the national working committee in 1991 and was elected premier of the North West Province in 1994. He served for two terms.
After his retirement as premier he took up the position of chancellor of the newly formed North West University for one five-year term after which he went into private business.
He later served on the boards of PetroSA, Armscor, Morvest, Imperial Holdings, Equestra and Aburag. He is currently chairman of Global Airways.
He has always been committed to youth development and education: the Popo Molefe Foundation grants study bursaries to deserving students of all colours and creeds.
His two terms as premier of North West were exceedingly difficult, having to bring together a new province consisting of pieces of the old Bophutatswana, Western Transvaal and Northern Cape.
Factionalism in the North West ANC became an institutionalised characteristic of the provincial ANC during his two terms.
He however succeeded in fostering social cohesion among diverse groups, very much like his mentor, Mandela, did on national level, when he managed to forge an understanding with groups like the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), who were politically active on the mines of Klerksdorp, Orkney, Stilfontein and Rustenburg, as well as the ultra-right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) of Eugene Terre-Blanche.
He is the only North West premier to have served to full terms of office and is considered to be a real veteran and stalwart of the ANC.
- Theo Venter is a political analyst at North West University's School of Business and Governance.