AT AGE 79 Grace Masuku has been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the North West department of arts and culture for her commitment to restoring the dignity of her people, the Bakgatla Ba Kgafela tribe.

Among the many contributions Masuku has made to her community she helped with the establishment of the Mphebatho Cultural Museum.

The Bakgatla community comprises 350000 people, living in 32 villages northwest of the Pilanesberg.

The Bakgatla Ba Kgafela people were forcibly re-moved from their ancestral land during apartheid: They had to make way for the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

Masuku is dedicated to educating her people on sustainable methods of using the environment.

She had also won numerous awards, including the Ma-Afrika Award, for her efforts.

She told us how she uses her own pension to travel to various villages to train people for business based on traditional values.

The Department of Trade and Industry's Community Public-Private Partnerships Programme, which was coordinating a leather-producing initiative, recognised Masuku's knowledge and appointed her coordinator in North West.

She began training community members to produce goat hides instead of discarding the skin when she discovered that every household in the area owned goats.

The project was named Podi-Boswa, meaning "goat, our inheritance", and has provided about 1000 families with a sustainable income.

Masuku is a vast library of knowledge and insight but what I was not prepared for was her fiery passion for life.

"I love this God, I'm living an most wonderful life.

"I am a mad old woman who just wants to see everybody happy," she says.

Masuku began her career as a biology teacher and when asked about her profession she says: "As a teacher in a rural area you find yourself being a social worker, traditional healer and parent all in one."

Her knowledge of botany comes from her formal biology training and also from her interest in the interdependence between all living creatures.

Awe-inspiring Masuku runs her own indigenous chemist, which she started 21 years ago. She also educates her people about herbal remedies and methods of treating various diseases and ailments.

"Nature is such a wonderful institution of knowledge and this is one thing people outside of our culture don't realise about the initiation process.

"We teach our young people about the value of nature and good morals," says Masuku.

"When our kids return from their initiation you see a complete difference in them. They have a solid sense of strength, self-hygiene and even their will to protect their dignity is evident."

She says they learn that you cannot reach the spirit world if you are filthy.

According to Masuku, sleeping with any other man or woman other your wife makes you filthy.

"It is wrong to refer to human rights because all creatures have rights. A cow is equal to a stone and a tree.

"I have to treat my cattle's illnesses and pregnancies with the same herbs I use to treat human beings," she says.

Masuku exudes energy and passion to everyone around her. As I was about to leave she offered me a piece of liver from a freshly slaughtered animal.

"Liver is nothing but blood which is better for us to share," says Masuku.