“Do the right thing even when nobody’s watching.”

Dorcas ‘Didi’ Lekganyane

Category

Climate Change & Environment
 

Organisation / Company

Sweet Biotics
     
 

Profile

Didi Lekganyane is a researcher focusing on traditional medicine and the co-founder of Sweet Biotics, a herbalist store that distributes graded, quality traditional tonics to mainstream markets and outlets. The 32-year-old, who has a master’s in environmental science that focused on botany and plant biotechnology, is determined to break the stigma surrounding using traditional medicine; she is a plenary speaker and adviser on traditional medicine backed by scientific proof.

She also uses radio and television shows to hold conversations and spread knowledge about her area of expertise. Didi is part of South Africa’s Traditional Medicinal Council, which informs policy and justifies government regulations. She has produced a four-part documentary series on the life of a young traditional healer. Didi says her grandmother, the queen of untaught science and a traditional healer who collected herbs and helped people, ignited her curiosity about nature, the importance of being aware of the environment and healing. A key project close to Didi’s heart is her work with a group of women in a rural area who run an informal seed bank and trade seeds with the aim of ensuring biodiversity is protected.

Qualifications

  • Masters in Environmental Science (specialising in botany and plant biotechnology)
  • Honours in Botany
  • BSc in Botany and Biochemistry

Achievements

My master’s project focused on the role, application and trade of traditional medicinal plants in South Africa. In 2014, I took my first walk through a muthi market and was stung by the odour of what I describe as “the smell of death”, but this sensory excursion inspired my research project. I learnt that there was more life and untapped knowledge concentrated in that market, constantly being disregarded because of the stereotypes and social stigmas around the use of muthi.
The scientific findings of my project were amazing and inspired me to become a voice behind our vastly untapped natural resources. The first presentation of my scientific findings was for an international audience in Canada. I won the Office of Research Grand Prize for the best scientific work out of 500 international delegates. I was the first black female scientist to receive this award — and the youngest.
I learnt then that I have the responsibility of capturing our indigenous knowledge to understand the healing properties of African herbs. My teachers will always be the traders and healers at the muthi market who are always willing to answer my questions.

Mentors

My grandmother — my “queen” of untaught science. She has always told me that there is science that cannot be taught in classrooms but can be practised in everyday living. She has always sparked my curiosity about nature and healing. She herself was a healer and spent most days consulting or collecting herbs. She has taught me to learn from the land and to consistently be aware of my environment.