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Tribute from her supervisor and friend, Professor Ruth Hall

I first met Constance Galeo Mogale sometime in 2002, upstairs in the offices of the Landless Movement of South Africa (LAMOSA) in Braamfontein. Peter Jacobs (now at HSRC) and I had asked her for an interview, for a series of reports we were writing evaluating land reform. She was assured and articulate. We were about the same age. I was just starting out in research at PLAAS, and she was well seasoned as an activist, explaining how her own family and community struggles had led to the formation of LAMOSA. She laid out the role of The Rural Action Committee (TRAC) as an NGO in supporting LAMOSA, and wham, my assumptions about NGOs were upended. It was the community struggle that informed NGOs’ agenda, not the other way around.

Over the coming years, more than 20 years, anywhere where there was a policy process, or an activist platform, Connie was there. Often at the forefront (but not always), organising community representatives, sitting on drafting committees, leading singing, and infusing energy and focus. There are too many to mention. An entire generation of people – from social movements, NGOs, researchers, lawyers, government officials, – all knew Connie. And though she was wonderfully, generously, bravely, uninhibited and outspoken, she was not bitter. She was crystal clear about what she was struggling for. land rights and rural democracy.

After years at the helm of LAMOSA, when a raft of reactionary laws were mooted to entrench chiefly authority over the heads of rural citizens, movements around the country converged to establish an Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD). Connie was the obvious choice to be national coordinator. Dubbed the ‘Bantustan bills’, these laws formed the focus of campaigns led largely by rural women from across the communal areas, many of whom, like Connie, traced their vibrant voices back to struggles against apartheid and to forced removals. And her inspired suggestion of a symbol of the ARD was a traditional broom to ‘sweep clean’ the authoritarian, corrupt and patriarchal tendencies of governance – whether from state, corporate or traditional institutions.

She took the government to court – and won. In the landmark Constitutional Court case on the right of land claimants to have their claims resolved before new claims were addressed, Constance was at the helm. In 2016, the unanimous ConCourt ruling, Land Access Movement of South Africa and Others v Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and Others, defended land claimants’ interests and held government to account to process these long-delayed claims. Later, even while a UWC student, Connie was still taking the government to court. Last year, the Constitutional Court struck down the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act in the case in which she was the first appellant, finding that Parliament had not sufficiently consulted with the people who it would affect, in the Constance Mogale and Others v Speaker of the National Assembly case.

She was an Atlantic Fellow, one of the energetic movers in the Rural Women’s Assembly, and many other communities of change-makers.

We at PLAAS were thrilled when Connie registered to do our postgraduate diploma in Land and Agrarian Studies in 2017. She was immediately accepted through the University’s ‘recognition of prior learning’ route, as she didn’t have an undergraduate degree; her track record was enough to show that her life experience and her work over many years was equivalent to formal training. She threw herself into her studies, not assuming that she knew it all already; she really was there because she wanted new knowledge, and to learn how to think about old topics in new ways. I remember her arriving for graduation, with her mother and daughter, to celebrate with us at PLAAS. That moment encapsulated for me PLAAS’s sense of purpose. I thought: this is what we are here for, precisely to support someone of this calibre who is leading the charge for change, at a grassroots level, at a national level, and in global networks. It was one of those magical moments.

Fast forward several years, to the midst of COVID lockdown, and Connie applied for admission for an MPhil degree, was accepted, and won a full scholarship to join my cohort of students as part of the South African Research Chair in Land and Agrarian Studies (SARChI), funded through the NRF. Again, her aim was not to prove what she already knew, but to stretch her mind and experience, so as to bring something new to her work with the ARD and RWA. When we visited Marikana together to meet with the women living at Wonderkop, she honed in on the idea of finding out about women’s lives and how women, mostly migrants, secured access to land on the periphery of this mining zone. She settled on a topic quite far from her comfort zone – on the evolution of land rental and their role in social reproduction. This was in a locality that was her familiar stamping ground – in Bakgatla ba Mogale in the North West. She threw herself into understanding the concept of ‘social reproduction’ and, working at the cutting edge of Marxist feminist theory, set out to interrogate how women and men engaged in land rental markets, either for accumulating wealth or for survival. She pushed herself hard, even over the age of 50, to read and engage in theoretical debates, and to learn new techniques – like doing a household survey using an iPad – while also drawing on her immense capacity for talking to and listening to people. As she once wrote about the impact of her studies on her activism, ‘I’ve gained a lot, in fact even at work, there’s a difference in the way I’m doing things…’.

Doing fieldwork with her brought home to me how she navigated local politics. And like almost nobody else she was accomplished at working with people and expressing herself, in the diverse spaces of rural village, urban township, university campus, parliament, international conferences. She could communicate authentically, powerfully. I want to conjure up her vivid way of expressing herself, her infectious laugh, her ability to be outraged, furious even, while always keeping her humanity and warmth, and a total commitment to supporting women in all spaces she encountered. And in the midst of the hardship and struggle, she could, and would, get down on a dancefloor. Connie was a phenomenal leader and a woman of strength, a person of breadth and depth, a student, colleague, comrade, a friend and a sister to so many of us.

We join with the many thousands across South Africa, and more around the world, in mourning the loss of this remarkable woman, in celebrating her formidable life, and in re-committing to taking forward the struggles for land rights and rural democracy.

Hamba kahle, Connie.


“My family’s roots run deep in the land around Ventersdorp, including Goedgevonden from which we were removed to Vrischgewaagd, and in Putfontein near Coligny, from which family members were removed to Ramatlabama near Mafikeng. I also had family living in Volgestruisknoop near Putfontein who were removed to Gannalaagte. I was born in Goedgevonden and grew up in Vrischgewaagd and later Ramatlabama 600. That entire area was densely settled by African families who had countered dispossession by buying and establishing rights on land they had acquired in defiance of the laws of the Boer Republic and apartheid. They managed to establish dignified and thriving family homes against all odds and invested heavily in the education of their children at local schools and at nearby mission schools, such as the famous Bethel Opleiding Skool (now called Bethel High School), Boitshoko High School built by Uitkyk Missionaries, and Kutlwano Secondary School in Mogopa.
I am fortunate to come from a tradition of strong and resilient families who can trace our histories and land rights back on both the maternal and paternal sides. If the apartheid government had been consistent in its policy, it would have made our densely settled, thriving, and developed belt of African owned and occupied land into a homeland area. Instead, they embarked on a process of destruction and forced removals to accommodate White interests because of the mineral and agricultural wealth of the Western Transvaal maize belt. This process of destruction and forced removals was in full swing from the 1970s onwards.

The process of challenging forced removals has defined my life. As a young schoolgirl, I took minutes for the land claiming committee, which was forcefully re-occupying Goedgevonden, Welgevonden and Nagel led by the late Mr O L Segopolo. I was heavily involved in the process of re-occupying and rebuilding Goedgevonden in many ways, including volunteering as a teacher and making sure that both the two schools we rebuilt were registered.
I was inspired by brave community leaders from other areas who spearheaded the drive for reoccupation and restitution of land rights, stalwarts like Mam’ Beauty Mkhize in Driefontein, Mam’ Prisca Shabalala in Matiwaneskop, the late Reverend Ramosime, and Arthur Monnakgotla of Bakubung, Mam’ Tshepo Khumbane in Bronkhorstspruit, Othniel Phasha of Doornkop in Botshabelo, Mpumalanga, Mr Philip More of Bakwena ba Mogopa, the late Christian Mabalane of Baphiring and others. I remember and personally experienced the ambivalent role adopted by many traditional leaders or chiefs of the Western Transvaal in those days. Many of them cooperated with the policy of forced removals and became part of the Bophuthatswana government. I was a leader of the lobby to extend the cut-off date for lodging restitution claims from April 1998 to December 1998. I joined the Transvaal Rural Action Committee (TRAC) as a volunteer and assisted people to lodge restitution claims to their land through the restitution programme introduced by our new government after 1994. I drove to remote rural areas in seven provinces, going door to door to ensure that people did not miss the deadline.

My community was also one of the beneficiaries of the Land Reform Pilot programme from around 1996 to 1998, and was awarded a Presidential Discretionary Fund grant in 1995. The resilience and persistence of land claiming communities during the 1980s ensured that the land question was on the agenda of the negotiations for a post-apartheid South Africa and gave rural people hope in the new democracy. Sadly, we later had to take the same democratic government to court to protect and assert the hard fought right to restitution in the face of government corruption and policies that privilege the rights of elites over those of ordinary people. Policy changes such as replacement of the Reconstruction and Development Programme began to strip Black communities of their dignity and destroy our hopes for the new South Africa. I see the current TKLA litigation as a continuation of my life-long struggle for the preservation of the African ideals and reality of land rights, dignity, and accountability.
I have respect and appreciation for legitimate traditional leaders participating in the promotion of community development in our rural areas. But traditional leaders cannot refuse to be held accountable and be allowed and encouraged by government to abuse their positions. I personally followed the proceedings of the Baloyi Commission of Inquiry into the financial affairs of the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela, and witnessed the recalcitrant behaviour of Mr Nyalala Pilane, the former Kgosi, in the witness box. I also observed the dignified role of one of his peers, Kgosi Mahumane, who was a member of the Commission and asked thoughtful questions and made considered observations. My grandparents and great grandparents fought these battles and managed to bequeath land dignity and family cohesion to me and my siblings despite the enormous odds against them. To abandon these struggles for land and democracy is to abandon my own self. These ideals, traditions and rights have sustained my family and my community and are part of our legitimate customary law. They have made me who I am. Should we fail to preserve them and pass them on to the next generation, we doom our society to despair, corruption and disintegration.”


“A happy Africa for me would be the one where Africans are free from the chains of debt, landlessness, and enjoy abundance of food, access and control of natural resources and equitable distribution of wealth.”
May 2020

“Write with us and not about us.”
March 2018

“Land is not only for commercial purposes, but it’s also for social purposes, in particular for social reproduction and for making sure that people can build safety nets for themselves, without waiting for government.”
February 2019

“We cannot have a situation where the rural poor do not have a voice and there is no legislation that protects their tenure rights, where farm workers are still evicted and people in communal land are being subjected to the rule of law and being subjects to the chiefs.”
April 2019

“Customary tenure rights are still not discussed…”
May 2022

“The Restitution Act is saying from 1913 you can claim the land, but we know the land was taken before 1913.”
February 2023

“If you look at the map of where these laws are going to apply, it is exactly the former homelands and when we voted for this government, we were voting for one united South Africa and we were voting for one democratic vision.”
February 2023

“If you say 1 hectare: 1 household you should recognize the household dynamics, intra-household dynamics where patriarchy is the order of the day. What are you saying around unmarried women, widows, and orphans in the family?”
August 2022

“Radical transformation has to start with the redistribution of land… not only the soil, but we also mean land and the natural resources.”
December 2017

“For me tenure is to be able to belong to a certain place…”
September 2023

“Customary law and traditional practices do not have any boundaries.”
September 2023


Constance Galeo Mogale is the second child of Bertha and Thadius Ramoshage Mogale. Born on 28 April 1971 at Goedgevonden Village from where they were forcefully removed to Vrischgewaagd. She completed her high school at Ramatlabama Village in Mahikeng, and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Land and Agrarian Studies from the University of the Western Cape. She was in the process of completing her Masters in Philosophy in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies with the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).

She played an active role in the reoccupation of Goedgevonden in 1991, which took place in the face of violence by neighbouring White farmers and the police. She was actively involved in rebuilding Goedgevonden, including volunteering as a teacher and making sure both schools in the area were rebuilt and registered.

Constance worked for the Transvaal Action Committee and was a leader in the Land Access Moment of Rural Woman. As the coordinator of the Alliance for Rural Democracy, she played a pivotal role in bringing together many rural organisations. She did not hesitate to oppose the government when community land rights were threatened, and rural democracy was undermined.

Aus Connie, as she is affectionately known by many, is survived by a daughter, two sons, a foster daughter, grandson, three sisters and her mother.