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Tribute to the life of Oupa Lehulere

Oupa Lehulere03 November 2021 - On Monday, 29 November, while among a group of community activists preparing the resistance against the coming onslaught of gas, we received the news of Oupa’s passing.  I felt an immediate emptiness.  At the same time my sorrow and grief were held by the very space and people I was with.  I was with activists.  Planning the resistance against the assault of neoliberalism and false solutions to our climate crisis was exactly where Oupa would have wanted us to be. 

We paused our meeting.  We reflected on Oupa and his life of supporting activist intellectualism.  People in the room, from the Vaal, the Highveld, south Durban, Limpopo, the Karoo, all spoke about being shaped by Oupa.  Always constructively pushing activists to think and act critically and expand their own intellectual boundaries was how many remembered Oupa. 

groundWork met Oupa and Khanya College, the peoples’ justice education centre, when we asked him to participate in our early groundWork reports on industrial strategy, rights and big oil in Africa in the early 2000s. In these early dialogues he contributed to the climate and environmental justice debate that was starting to take centre stage in the broader resistance to our failing democracy and the global political, economic, energy and environmental crisis.  In debate at Elijah Barayi Memorial Training Centre, in Yeoville, and Gender Links in Observatory is where we enjoyed each other’s company and where you saw him challenge university intellectuals – so professorial yet so clear and humbly for all to understand.  You always felt emboldened to take on enormous justice challenges facing society after time with Oupa.  We went on to send activists to the Khanya Winter School, and indeed that experience, among others, led us to starting our own environmental justice school.

Oupa was known globally and was especially loved and revered by social justice activists in Sweden who always asked about Oupa when you met up with them.  He left a lasting memory of justice clarity with all in a world where our values and foundation for justice are often challenged by the seemingly insurmountable odds of the neoliberal and capitalist project of accumulation.

You just never had enough time with Oupa.  You always left his company feeling that you need to return and you need to engage more.  And this was at times after robust, honest conversations where he would be challenging your positions and forcing you to reconsider.  You left his company always stronger and better prepared for struggle.  He was a keen motivator with the energy of a young person coming into struggle for the first time and being awakened to the injustices of the day.

We reflected on the fact that Oupa’s soul will not rest in peace if we do not remain honest in the face of injustice and we do not act.

Hamble kahle teacher, friend and fellow traveller in the journey towards a world that puts people first so we can all live well with each other and the earth.

Bobby Peek - groundWork, Friends of the Earth, South Africa