Peter Michael Colvile Croeser

Peter Croeser

1949 to 2016

Born in Zimbabwe in 1949, Peter Michael Colvile Croeser was the first of two boys born to Shirley and Michael Croeser. His father was a tobacco farmer but became a successful landscape artist. The family later settled in Knysna, South Africa.

Peter and his brother Lawrence attended various boarding schools in the Transvaal and elsewhere. Peter’s life was filled with work concerned with the recording and dissemination of information. His first profession was journalism, which he began while conscripted in the South African army. He continued working as a journalist in Johannesburg at The Star newspaper. During the 1970s he left Hillbrow and his job at The Star to pursue a science degree at Rhodes University (now commonly known as UCKAR). Whilst studying, he simultaneously ran the Grocott's Mail newspaper together with his wife Fiona, who was also then studying at Rhodes. During this period their two sons Michael and David were born.

After completing his degree at Rhodes, Peter changed professions. In 1982 the family moved to Pietermaritzburg where Peter took up a post in the arachnology department at Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) Museum. Peter became a world expert on the huntsman spider, completing his MSc on a revision of the genus Palystes in 1996. Eight years before this, in 1988, 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 Afroceto croeseri followed in 2010 for the same reason. During his career as a scientist, Peter described seven new species of rain spider (in Palystes and Sparassidae).

Despite the significance of his work in South African arachnology and natural science, Peter was not satisfied that it was meaningful enough for the community in which he lived. This led him to take up the position of Chief Education Officer at the museum in 1991, a position he held until he retired at the end of 2008. In this position as a museum employee, Peter started, facilitated and was involved in many community programmes such as an attempt with Debbie Whelan to record the history of Georgetown in Edendale and lobby for a museum to be established there.

As Chief Education Officer, Peter held weekly biology lessons for high school students at the museum and sometimes offered extra lessons in other final year school subjects. These were focused lessons for children from township schools who were struggling to cope with the content or wanted to improve their understanding of the subject. These began at a critical time in South Africa when children from township schools began to be admitted to former Model C schools. The lessons Peter gave helped many children adapt to English-medium schools with a foreign language and custom for the majority of learners in the Pietermaritzburg community. Later, Peter would also facilitate weekly poetry sessions at the museum by making available the museum’s main hall to different youth groups free of charge. These sessions ended after his retirement in 2008. 

Peter’s dedication to teaching and skilling learners to extract the most from their school learning took a unique turn in 1992 when he separated from his wife and opened his home in Prestbury to young students in whom he saw potential 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. Peter played the role of the ‘old wise man’, the ‘elder of the tribe’, who taught and guided the youth under his tutelage through their adolescence into adulthood. It was through this role that he played to predominately Zulu children that he became known as ikhehla (old man) or umdala (old person). Peter was a very practical man and imparted his practical skills to generations of children who passed through his household from the early 90s to about 2014.  

After Peter retired from the KwaZulu-Natal Museum in 2008, he took up the rotating chairmanship of the Natal Society Foundation Trust. Peter was instrumental in turning over the Natal Society Library to the Msunduzi Municipality and establishment of a role for the NSF Trust. At the time of his death, he was its Administrator.

In his work at the NSF with his fellow trustees, he helped administer scholarships to needy students, publish books of historical significance to Pietermaritzburg, facilitate the continued publication of the historical journal Natalia, and continue the association between the Alan Paton Centre and Struggle Archives at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

After a short illness he died at his home, in the company of his family, on Saturday 29 October 2016. The Pietermaritzburg community has lost a man who made the city a better place and who lived a life of service to its people and some of its key institutions. Peter was a rare individual whose legacy will live on far into the future.

Phila Msimang



NSFT  2016 Annual Report

A challenging year for the Trust

At the annual meeting in December trustees recorded with great sadness the sudden death on 29 October of administrator Peter Croeser at the tragically early age of 67. Peter, after playing an important part on the council of Natal Society Library at the time of its transfer to the municipality was then instrumental in shaping a new role for NSFT as a publisher. He served it as chairperson, trustee and administrator and represented it in a number of places, perhaps most importantly on the editorial committee of Natalia. He was replaced on 1 December as full trustee and administrator by Phila Msimang.

While the objectives of the Trust were fully met in 2016, a number of changes, both planned and unanticipated, were put in place. A perplexing crisis erupted in January after the trustees insisted that Natalia should be subject to independent proof reading following the identification of errors in its 45th (2015) edition. The involvement of a supposed ‘über proof reader’ resulted in much venting of emotion and the making of several demands. The upshot was the resignation of the current and a former editor. Adrian Koopman and Elwyn Jenkins filled the breach for Natalia 46 (2016) and in September the Trust was delighted to announce the appointment of Debbie Whelan of Durban University of Technology as Natalia’s editor from 2017.

A second major change involved the decision, mainly as a result of limited human resources, to replace individual book launches with an annual, mid-year Book Day. The first, held on 30 July at the Tatham Art Gallery, introduced to the public Bill Guest’s Stella Aurorae volume one (published in 2014) and John Conyngham’s Hazara. The event was well attended and resulted in brisk sales that included NSFT’s backlist. Indeed, the print run of Hazara was soon so depleted that permission was granted to the author to arrange with local publisher Shuter & Shooter for a paperback edition. In ceding rights, the NSFT unfortunately had to remove the book from its website, thus undermining its commitment to online free public access.

In another policy change the NSFT decided that in future its author contracts would make no reference to royalties. There were compelling reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that most Trust publications are archival in nature and almost certain not to find a mainstream publisher, commercial or academic. Furthermore, as most copies are sold at cost either direct or to booksellers, royalties become part of production costs rather than sales success. And the amount of voluntary work put into otherwise unpublishable works effectively constitutes a royalty in itself.

The NSFT’s aim is to produce two titles per annum. Apart from Hazara the other 2016 imprint was Bill Guest’s Stella Aurorae volume two, which will go to the printer in early 2017. Four NSFT titles and two others for which the Trust is providing technical assistance comprise a publishing programme that will occupy the next two years. Apart from Jo Marwick’s expertise in layout and design and Jenny Cooke’s efficient maintenance of the website, the NSFT has the assistance of two proof readers and a cartographer. The NSFT’s website has attracted a growing number of visitors with the number of registered users reaching over 150.

Relations with the Alan Paton Centre remained cordial and the Trust’s collections (Hattersley and O’Brien) remain in good hands although concern was expressed about general campus security in view of violence associated with the fees-must-fall campaign. In May the APC committee, including the NSFT representative, met the Vice-Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

To comply with s.51 of the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 200, Peter Croeser and staff at Hay & Scott drew up a manual for the NSFT, which is available from the website.

During 2015 the trustees held four scheduled and one extraordinary meeting. The trustees must be thanked for their advice and support, especially Gillian Richmond for her financial summaries. The Trust’s lawyers, Hay & Scott, especially Pauline Hazelden, proved particularly supportive during the hiatus created by Peter Croeser’s death.

The Trust’s affairs are in an excellent state and its objectives during the year under review have been amply fulfilled.

Christopher Merrett
December 2016


To download the 2015 Annual Report please click here


Please view the Promotion of Access to Information Act Manual here