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Humble, sincere, with an infectious laugh – tributes to Ndoni Mcunu

- Wits University

Ndoni Mcunu, Wits PhD candidate, climate scientist, and the driving force behind Black Women in Science passed away on April 16.

Tribute to Ndoni Mcunu, PhD candidate, who passed away on April 16, 2022

A memorial service will take place on Friday, 22 April 2022, at 09:00 and live-streamed via these channels: and


Tribute by Professors Coleen Vogel, Francois Engelbrecht and Mulala Sitmatele, and Associate Professor Laura Pereira from the Global Change Institute (GCI), and Professors Mary Scholes, Sally Archibald and Neville Pillay School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences (APES):

When you have lost someone you love…

Do not make the mistake of living in sadness, or living small to honour their absence.

You owe it to them to live even more vividly than before.

If they could reach you, they would surely say..

“Take the love you had for me and turn it into gladness,
use the love you had for me to drive away the sadness.”

Extract from Donna Ashworth Words

“We deeply mourn the loss of our friend and departed colleague. Ndoni taught as all how to be humble but make a mark. Her beauty (both inside and out), her infectious laugh and her sincerity will be sorely missed. We admired her confidence in all situations and how she took the initiative to bring new people into her network, however, influential, or junior. We extend our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues.”

Ndoni was pursuing her PhD in climate change and agriculture at the GCI at Wits, where she was supervised by the late Professor Bob Scholes and Professor Sally Archibald.

“Ndoni was an inspiring and delightful colleague who took up life’s challenges with determination and didn’t let muddy roads, difficult statistics, or complex geopolitics impede the way towards her goals and ideals,” Archibald wrote in her tribute.

Tribute from Professor Nithaya Chetty, Dean of the Faculty of Science

“News of Ndoni’s tragic death has shocked us in the Faculty of Science. We convey our deepest sorrow to her family, her colleagues, and her friends. In her brief life, she touched so many different people in so many different ways. Mostly, she was a supreme intellect who cared about the world around herself, and she dared to make a difference.

“Less than a year ago, Ndoni lost her academic mentor, Prof Bob Scholes, and we were all so impressed with her inspiring remarks at Bob’s funeral. Her future was so bright. But now with her passing, and Bob’s demise, if there is a single lesson that we should take from this, it is that we cannot leave it to only a handful of dedicated and committed individuals to help us bring relief to Planet Earth. We need each and every one of us to play our part. And this, I hope can be the lasting legacy that Ndoni leaves for all of us, that she continues to inspire us to make a difference. She represented everything that we hope for in our country, and her loss is very difficult to bear.”

Ndoni was planning to dedicate her PhD and the impact she was going to make in her career to Professor Scholes. At his memorial, she said: “He taught me the meaning of creating and sustaining a legacy personally and in academia. He taught me to speak out, made us question everything, including him. He made sure we learned how climate change in Africa needs to be led by Africans and African scientists.”

Inspiring advocate for Black Women in Science

Ndoni was the founder of Black Women in Science, an initiative she cared about very deeply. Her supporting role for young scholars, activists and citizens was widely known – locally, nationally and internationally. She was deeply committed to youth empowerment and the team at Youth@SAIIA recently noted: “Her vision and legacy will continue on through all of the young people she has reached in South Africa and around the world.”

She worked as part of the secretariat development team as a researcher on the international Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) at SouthSouthNorth (SSN) focusing on climate change research and action.

She received multiple awards and recognition for her work, including being selected as a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow (awarded by the U.S Department of State) for her contribution to civic leadership development in Africa.

She was listed as the top 50 most inspiring women in tech in South Africa in 2017 by the Netherlands Embassy. She was also recognized as one of the 40 under 40 African Leaders for Climate Resilience in 2019 by Wilton Park which is an executive agency of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom.

More recently, she was recognized in 2021 when she made the list for the London-based Magazine – New African Magazine- 100 most influential Africans in the Change Makers Category ( Just a few weeks ago Ndoni was also named as one of the Most distinguished Women Change Makers in Africa by the Humanitarian Awards Global.