Dear Preven...Namaste

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Preven Chetty 11/6/1981 – 27/3/2024
Preven Chetty 11/6/1981 – 27/3/2024

The Environmental Education community in southern Africa, Africa and the world has lost a River Warrior, educator and beautiful person, a ‘vibrant virtuoso with the joie de vivre’ as his brother Viroshen said.

Dear Preven Chetty, father to Tayo, husband to Zim. Brother, son, cousin, uncle,  friend, comrade or colleague to all of us sadly passed away on 28 March 2024 at 1 am in the morning in the RK Kahn Hospital in Chatsworth, Durban. 

Doctors described his heart condition as an ascending aortic aneurysm, which the healthcare system could ultimately not help him with. But Preven’s spiritual heart never failed to be caring, loving and giving.  Amongst the kindest and most generous people I have known, Preven was always willing to give, to care, to love the world, to help others and to nurture the learning of children and environmental educators in his community, across the country and continent.  

His medium was music, fieldwork, and the sounds and flow of rivers.

Preven’s passion for our rivers was known far and wide.  ‘River Warrior’, ‘River Revolutionary’, ‘River Commons Hero’ and ‘River Lover’.  These are some of the terms people have used to describe Preven. Preven talked of his love for rivers. From when he was a small child playing in the stream near his home in Phoenix, Durban, the river gave him space to be who he was.

Preven loved rivers. The uMngeni River is the one that captured his heart, the one he walked from source to sea, exploring every corner of the river, loving its stillness, its rapids, its clarity, and even its pollution. Never resting to care for this river, Preven became an avid citizen scientist and one of the best educators supporting communities and children to detect the ‘noono’s’ (little invertebrates) in the rivers, as these were a sign that the river lives. 

After completing a degree in Environmental Management at UKZN and working as a geography educator for a short period, Preven took a job at WESSA in the uMngeni in the mid 2000’s.  Here Preven could spend his time doing what he loved most, taking children and educators into the valley to explore and appreciate the rivers and the river banks, the beauty of the world and its biodiversity and living systems.

It is in WESSA that Preven’s work and his kind, joyful approach to learning in the environment became an inspiration for many visiting environmental educators from across the SADC region, and later the United Nations Regional Centres of Expertise, amongst others.  Early on, he was recognized as one of the 200 top South Africans and made it into the finals for the International Rolex Awards for Youth Enterprise for his work involving young people making videos of the river as they walked it.

Over the many years he has been working in the field, he has shared his growing knowledge of environmental education with others. He has led, designed and facilitated many, many courses, amongst others, the first Environmental Education Practice courses in South Africa, pioneering these with his good friend Jonathan Wigley and others.

Working with thousands of educators and students across the region and continent, Preven was always able to inspire, and illuminate what it is to be a brilliant, caring and kind educator. It is not surprising that he was recently recognized for this work in his nomination and election as Council Member of the Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa.  He ended his working life building the knowledge hub of the DSI/NRF community of practice, and as SA co-ordinator of an international transdisciplinary programme (TRANSECTS) in which he mentored a team of young researchers in biosphere reserves (even getting frozen toes in the German forests in winter while doing this!).

But Preven was not just an educator, he was also a great ‘Cultural Curioso’ and intellectual wizard! Exceptionally curious and creative, loving music, the fringes of technology, of art, of academic thinking. Always critically, transgressively, mischievously and curiously probing the limits of modernity and its capitalist machine, Preven was reading Nietschze before the age of 25!  Nietschze, Marcuse, Fanon, Rosa, Lennon - no book, idea or song was too much for Preven.  Preven’s was the first Master’s Degree in Environmental Education to reveal the potential of social media as an educational tool.

His PhD, which he was in the process of completing, was moving towards being the first to theoretically and practically break through the limits of cultural critique to frame and demonstrate decolonial, embodied, connected and more resonantly generative ways of thinking about learning and pedagogy. He explored these processes through his work with children and teachers along the river banks in Makhanda, in the process bringing new combinations of sophisticated theory to life.  Preven’s PhD work rejects contemporary tendencies to flatten discourse, imagination, culture and politics into the field of understanding or perspective of the dominant order. For Preven, the world always needed to be richer than this, more diverse, creative, radical, mischievous, multi-dimensional and generative. More resonant with the wonders of the world that were being exorcised by colonial modernity’s pollution and exclusions. 

Hence he sought inspiration from environmental being, river walks, citizen science, decolonial scholars, cultural heritage, music, poetry, art, ancient philosophy, and resonance sociology to craft a form of Resonance Pedagogy that was Preven.  His last few academic presentations summarise his PhD and its work: ‘Finding the he(art) of Resonance as experienced in Forgotten Rivers and Enchanted Gardens’.  We hope in time, with the help of his brother Viroshen, Zim and Tayo, and the wider ELRC and EEASA communities to bring his PhD work to life in the form of a book or text that can play his legacy forward.

Preven’s life was inspired by music, and many have said how he filled our lives with music.  I think we may all know that John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was one of his favourite songs, the last four lines which catch Preven’s view of himself and his hope for the world.

You may say that I am a dreamer,

But I am not the only one,

I hope someday you will join us,

And the world will be as one.

His last written words, which he posted on his Facebook page shortly before his last journey to KwaZulu Natal, were with a song from John Lennon.

Here in Makhanda with Zim and Tayo, and working in the Rhodes University Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Preven made his last home, living, working and learning amongst people he loved and in a community that gave him joy, and to whom he offered so much.  He has left what Dylan called a huge ‘Preven shaped hole’ behind in the ELRC that no-one quite knows how to fill. 

Preven had friends everywhere, everyone loved him.  Tayo, his best friend and son. Zim his wife, life partner and muse. Preven had no greater love than for Tayo and Zim, and his brothers, sister, parents, cousins and nieces. Our hearts stretch out to you all.  May you take comfort from this enormous community across the country and continent who are mourning Preven’s passing along with you. In time we will also share all of the incoming messages, pictures and memories, there are too many to type out or share now.

I did not know how else to start this, the saddest piece I have had to write for many years, other than the way we all thought about Preven. It was never just Preven, it was always Dear Preven. And so I will end. As said in the simple, beautiful, ageless Sanskrit salutation for greeting and farewell,

Namaste, Dear PrevenNamaste.  

May your beautiful soul float seamlessly above all the rivers of the world, and find its peace. 

Om Shanti.


Preven’s funeral service was held on Saturday 30 March 2024 in Durban, near his family home.  Following the funeral service, his ashes were released into the uMngeni river, with blessed water from the Ganges River in India.

The Environmental Learning Research Centre at Rhodes University will host a memorial service to honour Preven’s life and contributions at a small event in Makhanda, with the date to be announced. 


By Heila Lotz-Sisitka

2 April 2024

Director of the Environmental Learning Research Centre

Rhodes University