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Eric Marooi Molobi (1945 - 2006)

The Order of the Baobab in

Eric Marooi Molobi (1945 - 2006) Awarded for:
His abiding commitment to and for developing a unique model of social enterprise in the service of humanity, particularly, the poor and for his commitment to the struggle for a just South Africa.

Profile of Eric Marooi Molobi

Eric ‘Marooi’ Molobi was born to Wilhelmina Mojoela Molobi and the late Enoch Ramphofeng Molobi on 5 June 1945 in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

He completed his secondary education in Soweto and trained as an electrician at the Vocational Training College in Dube, Soweto.

Molobi married Martha Maleshoane Moleleki in 1969.

He spent six years on Robben Island for his political activities in the struggle against apartheid under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, 1976. While in prison, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of South Africa. As a political prisoner on the island, his commitment caught the attention of Walter Sisulu.

Molobi was one of the key figures instrumental in the formation of the United Democratic Front. His most important contribution in the 1980s was to lead a back-to-school campaign through the National Education Crisis Committee, in response to the education crisis in black schools. He was the first director of the Joint Enrichment Programme, an initiative of the South African Council of Churches and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.

In 1990, Molobi joined the Kagiso Charitable Trust as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) where he was chief negotiator for the SouthAfrican Partners in the European Union Special Programme for support of the victims of apartheid. He also raised funds from foreign government agencies for educational and community development projects in South Africa.

As CEO of the trust, Molobi once said that the Kagiso Trust should think of itself as a ’department of a government-in-waiting’ and that as an alternative funding agency it should be looking at areas that the then apartheid government was incapable of or unwilling to deal with. Kagiso Trust became a leading development agency that funded over 30 000 students to enter and complete university studies. In Molobi’s view, education constituted the springboard to entering the mainstream to stake a claim for the right of participation by the previously disadvantaged young people. The trust also managed to disburse in excess of R1 billion in donor funds to new ground-breaking and empowering community-based initiatives.

Molobi never wavered in his determination to forge paths for civil society with an abiding commitment to enterprise in the service of social development.

Molobi saw business as a service to people and social transformation, rather than business defining people or an end in itself.

In 1989 Molobi assisted the just-released Rivonia Trialists with office accommodation by negotiating with his employers. He also arranged for the ANC to secure the same buildings after it was unbanned in 1990.

The building that is now Chief Albert Luthuli House was occupied in the late 1980s by the reinsurance company, Munich Re, for whom Molobi worked as underwriter following his release from Robben Island. The management of Munich Re held Molobi in such high regard that they readily agreed to provide two floors of their building to accommodate the released leaders of a banned political movement – a step that was highly unusual within corporate South Africa at the time.

Eric ‘Marooi’ Molobi combined the rare qualities of academic prowess, business acumen and political fortitude to make an exceptional contribution to the eradication of apartheid, the empowerment of disadvantaged communities and the encouragement of black children to cherish education as an instrument of liberation.

Molobi passed away on 4 June 2006 after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Martha Maleshoane Moleleki, and two daughters.