September 12, 2011


Mme Masuku is about 80 years old, she walks with a slight limp but is as alert, even more alert than most people. She has an aura of authority around her and she relishes in this. She is clear in her speech, passionate and totally in control. ‘We have been here before’ she intonates in her clear voice at the Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Conference in Johannesburg. When she is so immersed in the greatness of mother Africa she goes off in her local tongue; which better expresses what she is talking about then she switches back to English so we can all understand. She is an extraordinary ordinary person; Mme Masuku is a black African woman, through and through and that’s what makes her unique. She inspires and counsels in words only she can utter.

Mme Masuku speaks of olden days when man and nature co-existed harmoniously, when life was orderly and predictable. Lessons from the moon and the stars, messages from insects and animals, medicine from trees and food and drink in plenty from the land of her forefathers. But what happened to such a life? What made the children of Africa forget the old time-tested ways? What makes us not borrow from our rich African heritage-socially, culturally and economically?

Mme Masuku has lived through it all, seen it all and faces each day with a knowledge of what tomorrow will bring. ‘Nature must be respected’, she says, if you don’t respect nature and do not listen to nature then nature will destroy you. We have to rediscover our roots and embrace our rich heritage, and the time is now.’ She speaks of a day when all of the children of Africa will learn to be truly African, appreciate the knowledge of their forefathers and pass it on to future generations. She says that it is the youth of this continent who have to take up this challenge.
Mme Masuku and I pose for a photo at Kopanong Conference Centre in Benoni

In the true African form she does not require a powerpoint presentation, the words just flowed from her as of old, when knowledge was passed on orally and we drank in this river of knowledge, one that never gets extinct, and we are changed!

Of herself she says she has succeeded because ‘I stuck to my identity’. She truly has been to the University of Earth!

By Winnie Asiti Khaemba

Notes: Mme Masuku is an Indigenous Knowledge Holder from the Bakgatla ba Kgafela people in South Africa.She lives in Moruleng, North West, South Africa where she runs community projects aimed at environment conservation through Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Mama Masuku is a widely recognized traditionalist, environmentalist and community worker and was one of the eight success stories in sustainable development, which was showcased by the World Conservation Union during the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.



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