CER celebrates diversity and women’s leadership with announcement of executive transition

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  • Wandisa Phama, who has held the position of Deputy Director at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) for the past four years, will assume the role of Executive Director from May 2023, when current Executive Director Melissa Fourie steps down after 13 years at the helm. 

“We are immensely pleased to announce the appointment of Wandisa Phama to the role of Executive Director from May 2023,” says CER Board Chairperson Nompi Ndawo Vilakazi. “Wandisa’s leadership and experience within the social justice sector in South Africa, her long-standing dedication to human rights and public interest lawyering and her vision for CER as a key enabler in the fight for environmental rights and justice in South Africa all make her the natural choice to lead CER into the future.”

Phama joined CER in 2019 as Deputy Director. She is a public interest lawyer and activist who previously held the position of acting co-deputy director and head of the Business and Human Rights Programme at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits.

According to Vilakazi, the thoughtful and carefully-planned nature of the executive transition at CER affirms the organisation’s commitment to transformation and meaningful change within the legal sector: “CER recognises the need for diversity and women’s leadership in the fight for environmental rights in South Africa and beyond,” she says.

As incoming Executive Director, Phama looks forward to working with staff, the CER Board, and partners to realise CER’s vision of a more equal society, free of fossil fuels, in which environmental and climate justice is realised and all people and the planet flourish.

“The past four years of working at the CER have been some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my professional journey,” says incoming Executive Director Phama. “I am in awe of the amazing work done by the very committed and courageous members of our organisation. It has been an honour to contribute my skills and passion to this great organisation working under the leadership of my outgoing Executive Director, Melissa Fourie, and side-by-side with the rest of the management team.”

“This is a timely moment for Black women to lead the organisation, as the nation grapples with critical questions of what a just transition towards a fossil fuel-free society really means in response to climate change. I am looking forward to the journey that lies ahead for us, and I have no doubt that our best days are indeed ahead! I cannot wait to see all the milestones that this amazing team is yet to accomplish,” says Phama.

The CER Board extends its profound gratitude to outgoing Executive Director, Melissa Fourie, who co-founded CER in 2009.

“Under Melissa’s leadership, CER has grown into an organisation of over 40 diverse and dynamic group of lawyers and activists, working at the vanguard of climate change and environmental rights in South Africa,” Vilakazi says. “During this time, CER has built a formidable reputation for successful litigation on environmental rights and climate justice in South Africa.”

“I am immensely proud of the strong, diverse and resilient organisation we have built over the past 13 years, and I would like to thank the dedicated and courageous lawyers and activists who have devoted their time and passion to CER over the past 13 years,” says Fourie. “I am also humbled and inspired by the fearless activism of the community activists who are the true leaders of the climate justice movement. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity we have had to represent them and NGO partners in groundbreaking environmental and climate litigation over the past decade.”

“After working in close partnership with Wandisa for the past 4 years, it is my honour and privilege to hand over the reins to a leader of her calibre. I wish Wandisa and the new leadership team every success,” concluded Fourie.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal


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