Tribute to scientist, teacher, activist

2016-11-16 06:01
PHOTO: supplied Peter Croeser.

PHOTO: supplied Peter Croeser.

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PETER Croeser (67), who died at his home in Prestbury on 29 October, was a highly dedicated person who touched and changed the lives of many.

Croeser, fondly known as Khehla, played a leading role in the development of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, first as a natural sciences researcher specialising in spiders, and later as a teacher.

He retired while he was a chief education officer. Such was his commitment to his work and development of young people that he left an indelible mark in whatever role he played.

His research focus was on the taxonomy and systematic relationships of group African sparassidae huntsman spiders for which he became a world expert.

Croeser was awarded his BSc Honours degree in 1984 and his MSc degree in 1996, both from the former University of Natal. Three new spider species were named after him as the collector of the specimens - Caddella croeseri, Penestomus croeseri and Afroceta croeseri.

While Croeser had great expertise as a researcher, his real passion was in working with pupils, nurturing them and exposing them to opportunities.

He was very critical of the poor facilities in African schools, poor standard of education in township and rural schools.

He wanted to enhance education of African children so that they could succeed in high school and eventually at tertiary institutions.

In 1991 he became an education officer and eventually the Chief Education Officer for the KwaZulu-Natal Museum­ (then known as Natal Museum).

Croeser was deeply concerned by lack of resources and support system for Zulu-speaking pupils. He was the driving force in the establishment of the Sabalala Nolwazi Environmental Youth Club, a programme, that among others, provided after-school-pupils’ support in natural sciences and tutoring for Zulu-speaking pupils.

Fully aware of the challenges that black pupils faced, Croeser assisted many others who struggled with their science subjects. Most of them went on to successfully finish their degrees and find employment with various organisations.

Croeser had enormous skills in various aspects of heritage like the creative arts (poetry, drama, creative writing, and music) and crafts. He requested the museum to provide a venue for young aspiring poetry and drama students who had no place to train.

He assisted getting financial support for many of these students to continue with their studies and practical skills development.

His association with the Natal Society Foundation Trust opened up previously closed avenues for book publishing for many young black writers. The Trust, previously known as the Natal Society, gave birth to the KwaZulu-Natal Museum and to the Bessie Head Library. The Trust publishes the annual journal Natalia through Croeser’s publishing company, Khehla Publishers, which produces a range of small books of historical, scientific and cultural interest.

Croeser was an author, and his latest book, Traditional Useful Plants of Africa – Their Cultivation and Use” he recently authored with Phakamani Xaba, provides useful insights into his knowledge of traditional medicinal plants. Some of his other publications are listed at the end of this tribute.

In the early years of the digital revolution, Croeser was the museum’s IT point man and dealt with people’s frustrated tempers with enormous patience. He gave the museum presentations that were typically enriched with his raunchy sense of humour.

Croeser was an advocate for transformation. He was one of the leaders of the staff union at the museum. He advised management in many aspects of staff training and development in the Heritage Sector.

He assisted in the revision and development of many policies that helped the museum to comply with the Labour Relations Act of 1995.

In December 2008 Croeser retired from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, ending a colourful career that spanned 26 years.

Croeser’s passion and quest for heritage development and youth empowerment never ended despite his official retirement.

He assisted the museum with research on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and provided advice and research for the development of the Freedom Exhibition and Bird Exhibition that were completed recently.

In August 2015, Croeser was appointed by the minister of Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum Council for a period of three years. He served on the Council’s Human Resources and Remuneration Committee.

As a council member, Croeser was dedicated to his work and brought vast knowledge, based on his research and education expertise.

His death came just a week before council and management were to hold an important strategic planning workshop­ that his vast knowledge and strategic thinking would have provided valuable direction to the future of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum.

Council and staff of the KwaZulu-Natal Museum send their condolences to his family.

Khehla has left a never-ending legacy. We pay tribute to Croeser the visionary scholar, researcher, advocate for quality education for all pupils, colleague in nation-building and transformation.

Uphumule ngokuthula noxolo Peter­.

- Professor N.M. Mazibuko (KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Chairperson)

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