Establishing a career and business doing what you love is one thing, but making a good living out of it is another. Dedicating your life to fulfil that one thing is all about passion.
Former Cabinet Minister, liberation hero, business guru and environmental expert, Valli Moosa, has been there and done that.
Now perched on a comfortable seat in a classy, spacious office, it is hard to imagine that his career stemmed from being an ordinary teacher to commanding reputable positions both in government and internationally acclaimed organisations.
In an exclusive interview with Leadership, he opened up to the nation about his close to the heart environmental initiatives, political career and business interests. Born in South Africa’s cosmopolitan industrial capital of Johannesburg on 9 February 1957, life was not a stroll in the park for the anti-apartheid democracy movement figure of Indian origin.
Moosa and his family were forcibly moved to Lenasia with the implementation of the Group Areas Act in the early sixties and he had his first taste of politics at the tender age of 14 when he was involved in the Republic Day burning of the national flag and the refusal to sing the apartheid national anthem, Die Stem.
He made the principled decision of joining the liberation struggle as he felt that ordinary citizens were being oppressed by apartheid. “At that time we were oppressed and if you are oppressed you have to fight back. To preserve our dignity we stood up for our rights and did what it takes to free ourselves and the country,” says Moosa.
The politically celebrated Moosa was denied entry at Wits University on racial grounds and he travelled to Durban in 1976 where he majored in Maths and Physics at Westville University. During his studies, he learnt a lot about debate and the building of organisations which helped him gain a strong foothold in the political world.
The softly spoken but very enthusiastic Moosa testified that he was in and out of prison throughout the eighties, though he was usually detained without trial. He played a pivotal role in the political scene for the liberation of the rainbow nation. He was one of the founders and leaders of the United Democratic Front and the Mass Democratic Movement. During the early 90’s he played an important role in the drafting of the new South African Constitution.
At the advent of democracy, he was among the first crop of Ministers to be appointed by former president Nelson Mandela after earlier being part of Mandela’s team which negotiated the peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994. As the Minister of Constitutional Development, Valli Moosa played a pivotal role in drafting the new constitution of the liberated South Africa in 1996. When Mandela left office, Moosa was appointed by his successor, former president Thabo Mbeki as Minister of Environment Affairs. This was where his environmental journey began.
“In 1999 I was appointed as Minister of Environmental Affairs and I held that position for five years. This gave me the opportunity to place environmental protection firmly on the national agenda. I also hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and served as chairman of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2003,” he recalls.
The astute environmentalist left an impeccable record as the Minister of Environmental Affairs. His portfolio included Fisheries, the South African Weather Service, South African National Parks, the National Botanical Institute and the South African National Antarctica Programme.
He, however, believes that the only way people can live in harmony with nature is to empower them with knowledge. “The first step to influence people to live in harmony with nature will be to inform them. When people know more about their impact on the environment, they are bound to make decisions that will ensure that they tread more carefully on their surroundings.
“A consistency in growing knowledge and the application of what you learn will lead to the formation of habits favourable towards the environment and eventually a passion for it. Once you have developed the love, you are won over,” he asserts. In his line of work, Moosa successfully conducted the global negotiations on the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and represented South Africa at various sessions of the UN Convention on among others, climate change.
Adding feathers into his hat, he was appointed as the global facilitator for the final negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol at the seventh conference of the parties held in Marrakech in 2001. It was all part of the challenge.
“The advent of a democratic dispensation in South Africa provided the opportunity to create a platform for a system that would ensure that all South Africans were extended the same rights and guaranteed fair and equitable treatment across the social, economic and political spectrum. We had to ensure that the quality of life of all South Africans, both present and future generations, was improved without depleting our natural resources. The positive advances that South Africa has made and continues to make towards more environmentally sensitive behaviour by both communities and the corporate world is proof that those challenges are faced head on,” he says.
There is no straight answer as to why he chose to champion environmental issues.
“Many people always ask me why I chose to champion the environment and I find it hard to answer. For me, it is a natural thing for human beings to love nature.”.
Moosa put in place a series of key environmental initiatives that include the implementation of the much needed Fisheries Policies to prevent the collapse of abalone stocks and curb poaching, the launch of Africa’s first environmental court, the establishment of five new Marine Protected Areas, playing a key role in the establishment of the first trans-frontier park in Southern Africa, the banning of 4X4 activities on beaches and placing restrictions on plastic bags.
Driven by a consummate zeal to protect the environmental, Valli Moosa has had his hands full as he has gone to the root cause of environmental degradation. “I think we have been able to prove that the promotion of social and economic development can take place hand in hand with environmental protection. In fact, it is now accepted that environmental degradation affects poor people more than it does the rich,” he says.
As a seasoned environmental expert, he was responsible for securing South Africa’s interests in a number of multi- lateral environmental agreements, including the Convention of Biological Diversity, the Convention on Desertification and the Biosafety Protocol which regulate the production and trade of genetically modified organisms.
Moosa argues that while rich countries are primarily responsible for global environmental destruction, developing countries should not just sit back. “Some developing countries say they have more pressing issues to deal with, like poverty, than to be concerned about sustainability and environmental management. However, we are learning now that solutions to some of the nations’ socio-economic challenges lie in their proper management of the environment. I believe that progress can be made with increased public education and sufficient allocation of resources towards sustainable development and environmental programmes. Government, environmental rights groups, the corporate sector as well as communities would have to work together for meaningful impact,” Moosa stresses.
Through his enthusiasm, strategic insight and intimate understanding of environmental issues, Moosa is seemingly unperturbed by the environmental challenges and his focus is on how best to inspire people to live in harmony with nature. “Nature conservation is everybody’s business. We will succeed if we continue to broaden our scope and involve more people. I would like each and every individual to be more conscious of nature conservation. We must imbue it in our practices and personalities,” says Moosa.
He dreams of a day when motor vehicles are environmentally friendly and have zero emissions. This is because one of the biggest environmental problems that the world is facing is global warming. After completing ten years in government in 2004, Moosa joined the private sector and just like thread to a needle, his success followed him in the career switch. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Lereko Investments with Dr Popo Molefe.
Moosa is chairperson of the boards of Sun International and Anglo Platinum. He also serves on the boards of Sanlam, Sappi and Imperial Holdings. In 2008 he was appointed chairman of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) South Africa, the country’s largest environmental non-governmental organisation.
Moosa is called upon by the international community to contribute to the global stage. He served as the president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 2004 to 2008. He also served as a member of the Global Leadership for Climate Action task force under the Chairmanship of President Ricardo Lagos of Chile until 2009. From 2009 to 2011, he was a key member of the China Council of International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) which is a global advisory body to the Chinese government.
He currently serves, at the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the International Peer Review Committee, evaluating the country’s sustainable development policy. Moosa travels the globe extensively dealing with environmental issues. He has held field trips to Antarctica, Spits Bergen, the Arctic and various sites in Africa. Recently he travelled 3 700 km of the Amazon River by boat. “I wanted to observe the world’s biggest river and the state of the Amazon jungle first hand.” Moosa would like to see South Africans being more involved in environmental protection.
“Environmental protection is the responsibility of all citizens. Today’s children are more concerned about protecting the environment than past generations were. I see a time in the future when it will be quite normal and ordinary for citizens to, for example, recycle their waste,” says Moosa.
He is also making great strides in business through Lereko Investments which is impacting the transformation of the economic landscape with a unique broad-based empowerment model. The charismatic Moosa believes that a healthy body houses a healthy mind. “I enjoy embarking on a number of outdoor activities that include hiking and cycling. I also enjoy classical music,” he confesses.
Moosa has participated in the annual Cape Argus Cycling Tour in Cape Town nine times. Just by engaging in what he loves doing; Moosa is now internationally recognised for his expertise in sustainable development and environment management affairs.