The South African Academy of Science and Arts has bestowed the 2020 M.T. Steyn Medal for Natural Sciences and Technology research and excellence to Prof Ben-Erik van Wyk. This ‘once in a lifetime award’ was in honour of Prof van Wyk’s creative contributions to the exploitation, organisation and continued development of the natural sciences or technology and its successful application, in the national interest.
An enthusiast and researcher of indigenous plants use, Prof van Wyk says that “the exceptional biological and cultural diversity, as well as the high levels of endemism in Africa and southern Africa are unique assets of international importance.”
He believes that basic scientific research is an urgent priority in order to maximize the scientific, cultural and socio-economic opportunities presented by this rich biodiversity. “Southern Africa is not only the most likely place of origin of modern humans some 160 000 years ago, but is also home to the most ancient of human cultures, represented by the click-speaking peoples of the region. The indigenous oral-traditional knowledge of plants and their uses have remained poorly recorded and there is an urgent need to study and preserve this ancient wisdom for the benefit of future generations,” says Prof van Wyk.