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Statement on the passing of Lydia Makhubu

September 03, 2021

The first OWSD President leaves a legacy of dedication to the advancement of women scientists in the developing world.

OWSD is deeply regretful to learn of the passing of Lydia Phindile Makhubu, co-founder & first President of the Third World Organization for Women in Science (TWOWS), which became OWSD in 2010. From an idea conceived at a TWAS conference in Beijing in 1987, she led the effort to organize a study group to explore the creation of an organization that would promote the experience, needs and skills of women scientists in the developing world. TWOWS was officially launched five years later in Cairo, Egypt in 1993, where Makhubu was elected President at the First General Assembly.

Lydia Makhubu was born in 1937, in what is now eSwatini – then Swaziland. She was the first Swazi woman to receive a doctorate degree, in medicinal chemistry from the University of Toronto, 1973. She started her academic career as a lecturer at the University of Eswatini in 1973, where she advanced to become Vice Chancellor in 1988. Her research focused on the chemistry of the medicinal plants of Eswatini, and their use in the traditional system of medicine. She also contributed greatly to an understanding of the beliefs on which traditional medicine is based.

Makhubu was a dedicated champion for women in science, for science and technology-based development, and for higher education in Africa. Besides her work with OWSD, she was a UNESCO Chair for Women in Science, Vice President of the Science Council for Africa, a fellow and governing board member of the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Senate in the Parliament of Eswatini, in addition to many other memberships and decision making positions. She was the first woman to serve as chairperson of the executive committee of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Colleges. She consulted on various issues of science, technology and innovation policy for the United Nations University, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, University of Cape Town, AAAS, USAID, IDRC, and government of Swaziland (eSwatini), among others.

Makhubu received many grants and awards throughout her career, including the McArthur Foundation grant (1993), the UNESCO Commenius Medal (1998), and grants from UNDP, USAID, WHO, and the European Economic Community, among others. She held five honorary degrees, from the University of Wales, the Council for National Academic Awards, London, and three Canadian universities: Queen's University, St. Mary's University, and Brandon University.

She will be forever remembered and admired for her profound dedication and achievements in advancing science—and particularly women in science—in the developing world. We welcome any messages from OWSD members—and others—who may have met Lydia Makhubu and known her through her work with OWSD. Please send your comments to and we will make a selection to post on the OWSD website. Please also send in any photos you might have, and let us know the relevant place and date (and any additional details). We have very few photos of Makhubu in our archives and we would very much like to have more!  
















Lydia Makhubu, far right, at the 1st OWSD General Assembly in Cairo, Egypt, 1993

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