‘Khehla’ made a great difference to the city and its institutions

Peter’s experience in journalism began whilst conscripted in the South African army. He continued working as a journalist in Johannesburg at The Star newspaper. During the 1970s he left Hilbrow and his job at The Star to pursue a science degree at Rhodes University (now commonly known as UCKAR).
In 1982 the family moved to Pietermaritzburg where Peter took up a post in the Natal Museum’s Arachnology department. Peter became a world expert on the huntsman spider. Peter had a species of spider, Caddella croeseri, named after him for being one of the collectors of the type material. In 1989 he had Penestomus croeseri named after him for being the sole collector of the type material and had Afroceto croeseri named after him in 2010 for the same reasons. Peter also described 7 new species of rain spider (Palystes, Sparassidae).
Despite the significance of his work in South African arachnology and natural science, Peter was not satisfied that this work was meaningful enough for the community in which he lived. This led to him taking up the position of Chief Education Officer at the museum in 1991, which he held until he retired at the end of 2008.

In 1992 when he separated from his wife Peter opened up his home in Prestbury to young students who he saw potential in but who needed a helping hand. These learners lived in his home with his two sons, learning not only the skills they would need to succeed in their new school environments but also general skills from carpentry and plumbing to driving and cooking or jam making. It was through this role he played to predominately Zulu children that he became known as ‘ikhehla’ or ‘umdala’.
After Peter retired from the KZ-Natal Museum in 2008, he took up the chairmanship of The Natal Society Foundation Trust. The Natal Society continues on today as The Natal Society Foundation Trust of which Peter was its chairman and then administrator—a role in which he helped fulfil the Foundation’s mission of “the general encouragement of habits of study, investigation, and research”.
His contribution to the KwaZulu-Natal Museum was so valued that he was nominated and later became a Ministerial appointed member of the Museum Council for a period of 3 years starting from August 2015.
After a short illness he died at his home, in the company of his family, on Saturday 29th of October. He leaves behind his brother, Lawrence, two sons, Michael and David, and his many other children that he mentored throughout his life. As one of his eldest kids, Phakamani Xaba, said: “A great tree has fallen, although, much of its seedlings are thriving.”

  AUTHOR
Phila Msimang

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