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Black Women in Science founder Mcunu 'died from gas leak'

Karabo Ledwaba Journalist
Ndoni Mcunu
Ndoni Mcunu
Image: Supplied

Black Women in Science founder and climate scientist Ndoni Mcunu  died from a suspected gas leak at the Cradle of Human Kind in Krugersdorp, on the West Rand, where she was on vacation with friends. 

The 33-year-old died on Saturday.

Family spokesperson Nobuntu Hlazo-Webster said the family is waiting for the postmortem results and for police to conclude their investigations.

“Ndoni Mcunu passed away while on vacation at the Cradle of Humankind with friends. Police who notified the family of the death cited a gas leak at the accommodation venue as the probable cause of death,” said Hlazo-Webster in a statement on Monday.

Krugersdorp police spokesperson Capt Raymond Sebonyane had not responded to Sowetan's request for comment at the time of publication.

A receptionist at the Cradle of Humankind on Tuesday asked that Sowetan calls on Wednesday as the management was unavailable.

In another statement, Mcunu's family said she was loved deeply.

"...Ndoni Mcunu (PhD candidate) was an advocate for climate change in Africa and the founder of Black Women in Science. We loved and adored her deeply. The family appreciates all the messages of love, support from friends, colleagues in SA, the African continent and across the world,” read a family statement.

We loved and adored her deeply

Mcunu was well known for creating opportunities for black women through her organisation Black Women in Science, which aims to support and provide mentorship for black women in a field where they are underrepresented.

She was also  part of the secretariat development team at South South North for the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) supported by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

Last year, Mcunu was featured in the Sowetan for International Day for Women and Girls in Science. At the time, she had helped over 300 black women to gain extra skills in entrepreneurship, science, communication and scientific writing.

“The NGO was a personal journey. I saw the gaps in the industry and I wanted to support black women who do not know if they should continue doing research, go into the corporate world or start a business,” said Mcunu.

Mcunu was also completing her PhD at Wits University which was funded by the National Research Foundation. In a statement, the foundation said she was an excellent scientist and  that it is proud to have been involved in her journey.

“Her excellence was demonstrated by the number of accolades she held, including being selected as a Greenmatter Fellow for her academic research in climate change and agriculture; listed as one of the Top 50 Most Inspiring Women in Tech in SA in 2017 by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and SA; selected as one of the Top 200 Mail and Guardian Young South Africans in 2016 in the education sector; and being selected as a Mandela Washington Fellow in 2017. She was also recently recognised by the Ghana-based Humanitarian Awards Global, as one of the most Distinguished Change Makers: Women in Africa,” read the statement.

Her friend and mentee Anne Chisa said she will remember Mcunu for her trailblazing efforts in science and her vulnerability. “She was going to the top but she wanted us to come too. She was a trailblazer, she made greatness seem possible. She made us feel that if Ndoni could do this, then so could you.''

Mcunu's  friend and musician Nandi Madida shared her loss on Instagram. “Going to miss you so much Ndoni. Can't believe you're gone my friend. Love you forever my sister. Rest in peace,” she said.

A memorial service will be held on Friday and she will be buried on  April 30 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

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