Six African luminaries, including the “Princess of Africa”, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, birdman Hugh Chittenden and Zuleikha Mayat, the woman synonymous with the cookbook Indian Delights, are to have honorary degrees conferred on them by the University of KwaZulu-Natal in April.
The six are being recognised for their “outstanding” work in their respective fields.
Thudiso Gcabashe, a community worker and national orders recipient, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, once described as “perhaps the greatest living African scholar”, and conservationist and “elephant whisperer” Lawrence Anthony round off the list.
For Chittenden and Mayat, the accolade is particularly special as neither went to university.
Chittenden is chairman of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, which publishes all editions of Roberts Birds of South Africa.
The Eshowe resident is busy making the final corrections to an illustrated guide on sub-species of birds in southern Africa, which will be published this year.
The university praised Chittenden for his efforts in increasing public understanding of ornithology, calling his knowledge “encyclopaedic”.
However, Chittenden, 64, said he was simply a “retired horticulturalist with a birding hobby”.
“This (the honorary degree) is a huge accolade for anyone. There are not many people in KwaZulu-Natal who have received it. I never went to university. When I was young I just wasn’t interested,” he said.
Aside from being a culinary whizz, Mayat, 85, of Westville, is also a poet, cultural and religious leader, and gender activist.
“I’ve just been doing my work all these years, but never working toward accolades. I never dreamt of anything like this…”
The university said her “pioneering and bold” efforts in tackling gender issues, and sensitive cultural and religious practices regarding the role of women, had made her a “remarkable role model”.
Chaka Chaka is still in Switzerland, having received the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award there last week.
The Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Malaria in Africa, and first ambassador for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, is the first African woman to receive the award.
UKZN said Anthony, the author of The Elephant Whisperer, had travelled to the Democratic Republic of Congo in an attempt to save the northern white rhino from extinction, and had formed the first SPCA in Iraq.
Mamdani, of Uganda, would be recognised for his contribution “in reclaiming Africa’s contribution to the global knowledge project and in knowledge generation in and of Africa”, the university said.
Gcabashe, from KZN, has distinguished herself through contributions to youth development and society at large, in religion, poverty alleviation and community health.
In 2009 she received the Order of the Baobab (Silver) for her “selfless and courageous” service and her “sterling dedication to women’s empowerment and commitment to the development of education for the rural and disadvantaged communities”. – The Mercury