As WRM team, we are shocked and sad with the news that Wally Menne passed away, given the force and energy with which Wally always contaminated us, given his friendship, attention with us and other friend-activists.
I first met Wally in 1998 in Montevideo, he was impressive both as this strong and tall Southafrican man, but also with this strong and consistent interventions argueing against large-scale tree monoculture plantations, a huge problem in South Africa for the people and nature, especially the Southafrican grasslands. Wally left the meeting very happy with the launch of an International Campaign against large-scale monoculture Tree Plantations WRM launched at this meeting. He has been a passionate and dynamic activist in that campaign until today.
After this meeting, I had the privilege to meet and spend time with Wally in several opportunities of mostly WRM meetings, including one he organized in Johannesburg in 2007 and the last one, in 2015, the civil society event parallel to FAO´s World Forestry Congress in Durban, a big civil society event that he organized with others in his own dedicated Wally Menne way.
I think Wally always got much inspiration and energy from the meetings WRM helped to facilitate, as much as we also inspired ourselves listening to Wally with his very direct and strong interventions. Wally felt very much the loss in 2011 of Ricardo Carrere, the former WRM international coordinator, who inspired all of us so much. Wally insisted that in the Durban Activities in 2015, four years after that Ricardo passed away, we had to dedicate one of the events in a tribute to Ricardo. It says something about Wally and his care not only with organizing the activities, with the anti-plantation struggle, but also with the people who were and are part of these struggles. In our last meeting in Durban, on our last night he insisted to have dinner and talk with some of us, international participants, in spite of being extremely tired of having organized all the activities, but nevertheless wanting to discuss new plans to continue the fight against tree plantations and against the FAO forest defintion that declares these plantations forests, Wally called them ´fake forests´.
The battle against industrial tree plantations in South Africa has been far from an easy one but Wally did never give up on that, and believed much in the connecting and networking with other activists in the region and in the world, creating a global movement, an objective in which we are so much connected with Wally. Wally was not only a Southafrican activist, he was a global activist, always ready to show interest and if needed solidarity with struggles elsewhere.
The last project we worked together on in the past two years was a survey and report to show the impacts of the on-going industrial tree plantation expansion in 10 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, given the concrete threat of a new huge expansion cycle of plantations in these countries. As a follow-up to this, and also reacting on the difficult campaign we moved together with Wally and Timberwatch and many others to make the United Nations FAO changing its wrong forest definition, Wally recently spoke to me that we should again organize some big gatherings of activists from different countries and continents to face the new plantation expansion threats and strenghten the networking and coordination of struggles on the ground.
In one of his last messages he reckognized that a lot had been done but typically for Wally it was not enough: “I know this has already been achieved to some extent, but there is much more that can be done”. Among many other things he alerted about the new threats saying ´ Another issue of course is that the drivers of plantation expansion need to be addressed even more vigourously, especially the new ones – biomass fuels and carbon offsets – which unlike the established ones like paper and packaging, are exacerbating enormously the problems of land and water grabbing that when combined with the effects of climate change, directly affect or displace even more people from local communities.’ And he ended that long message in a way that characterizes very much Wally, his distrust of the international power structures that cause deforestation and promote plantations : “My last thought is that we must stop pretending or expecting that the United Nations is trying to do what is good for ecosystems or for the people of the world. In reality it is just a tool used by those who already control or manipulate the global economy for their own benefit, and that is not going to change!”
Wally will continue having a special place among us actvists struggling against industrial tree plantations, with his reflections and arguments, his inspiration and contribution in the struggle against monoculture plantations in South Africa and elsewhere, needed to achieve a world with environmental and social justice. But we will also remember the friend Wally, the warm care he has had with us all from the World Rainforest Movement and many other activists.
We wish his wife Rose and his children all the strength you will need in this so difficult moment
International Coordinator WRM