Prof. Nokwanda Makunga at the University of Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens
Prof. Nokwanda Makunga at the University of Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens

SA’s leading black botanists to show career growth in #BlackBotanistWeek campaign

By Kristin Engel Time of article published Jul 29, 2021

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Cape Town - Black botanists and plant lovers from around the world are taking part in the online #BlackBotanistWeek campaign this week to highlight the careers of successful black botanists and promote botany as a field of study and career option for black, indigenous, and other people of colour.

A few of the botanists from South Africa include Stellenbosch University Ethno-botanist Professor Nokwanda Makunga, Botanical Society of South Africa conservation manager Rupert Koopman, and plant ecologist Dr Itumeleng Moroenyane – who were all founding members of the campaign in South Africa.

“South African botany has always been rather dominated by white males for decades, especially at the highest career levels. To grow the field of Botany and any other STEM-related fields, it is important for people from diverse environments to feature as this ensures a greater pool of talent with different life experiences to tackle complex problems that are associated with the plant sciences,” said Makunga.

“Those interested can participate through showcasing their work and their love for plants and nature on any of these (social media) platforms and beyond. Black Botanists are also welcome to write about their personal experiences and stories on their Facebook pages,” said Makunga

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and SA National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) principal horticulturist Phakamani Xaba, who will be part of the campaign’s panel on Wednesday, said indigenous people were involved in botany and horticulture before it became known in the western world.

KIRSTENBOSCH National Botanical Gardens’ main lawn during spring with it’s annual daisies, which principal horticulturist Phakamani Xaba looks after. | Alice Notten, Kirstenbosch NBG, Sanbi
KIRSTENBOSCH National Botanical Gardens Cycad Amphitheatre, which principal horticulturist Phakamani Xaba looks after. | Alice Notten, Kirstenbosch NBG, Sanbi

He said they developed crops, studied plants using their own indigenous knowledge systems for many years and a lot of ethno-botany knowledge was taken from indigenous communities and then modernised.

“Horticulture, botany and biodiversity in general were not traditionally looked upon as career opportunities in black communities, so showing that one can actually have a career in this field and what it entails would be beneficial for many youngsters that don’t usually have access to opportunities and careers in this field,” said Xaba.

Black Botanists Week 2021 will conclude on July 31 and all black, indigenous and other people of colour interested in botany were encouraged to take part using their social media and webinar platforms (https://blackbotanistsweek.weebly.com/).

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