Fpik mielieland 1 crp
Southern African Society for Plant Pathology
Advancing Agriculture in Southern Africa


SASPP Awardees

Honorary Members


Prof. Brenda Wingfield has been a member of the SASPP since 1997. She is also the recipient of the Christian Hendrik Persoon Medal from the SASPP (2015), only the sixth person to receive this award and the first female recipient. She has been widely recognized for the excellence in her research, training and service and has won multiple Exceptional Achiever Awards at the University of Pretoria as well as the Chancellors Award for Research. She won the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry Women in Water, Sanitation & Forestry Research Award, the Department of Science & Technology Distinguished Women in Science Award and the African Union Regional Awards for Women in Science (Southern Region). 

Prof. Wingfield holds an NRF A rating since 2014. She has been the winner of the NSTF BHP Billiton Award for researchers for an outstanding contribution to science, engineering, and technology (SET) through research capacity development. She is one of the founding members of the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, and served a 7 year term as Deputy Dean of Research and Postgraduate Studies of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Pretoria. During this time, she was also acting dean for a period. She currently holds a DST/NRF SARChI research chair in Fungal Genomics and is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Pretoria. Prof. Wingfield is a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, an Honorary Member of Mycologica Society of America. She also received a Gold Medal from the South African Society of Microbiology. Prof. Wingfield has had numerous management and leadership roles during her career including Chairperson of the NSTF for two terms and Vice President of the Academy of Science of South Africa. She is currently the secretary General of the International Society of Plant Pathology.
Prof. Wingfield has published more than 400 scientific articles covering topics including population genetics, identification and genomics of fungal plant pathogens and is one of South Africa’s most highly cited researchers. She was one of the small team of researchers responsible for establishing the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) in 1998 and later the Centre of DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology in 2014. She has spearheaded fungal genomics research in South Africa and her team was responsible for sequencing the first fungal genome (and thus the first eucaryotic organism; the pine pathogen, Fusarium circinatum) in Africa. She has advised more than 100 Masters and PhD students and is passionate about education and public understanding of science.
Prof. Wingfield has provided an example of what is possible for women in science to achieve scientifically and has been a PhD supervisor / co-supervisor to 53 graduates of which 22 were women, all of whom are now successful scientists in their own right. Female role models such as Prof. Wingfield are themselves an inspiration to the students that they teach and mentor. She has furthermore written a number of science communication articles to promote the importance of science and education and the challenges faced by women in science.

Prof. John Mildenhall’s association with the SASPPM, the predecessor of the SASPP, dates to 1966, shortly after the society was founded. John then pursued a PhD at the University of Wisconsin and accepted a position at the University of Fort Hare upon his return in 1971. Given the remoteness of Fort Hare in a plant pathology context, John highly valued the opportunities offered by the SASPPM and later SASPP to meet and interact with fellow plant pathologists. His enthusiasm and support of the SASPP thus stretches over many years, even long after retirement, and are evident from his regular attendances, academic contributions, and recollections of business matters and social events. Over his long career John distinguished himself as a versatile plant pathologist with research interests ranging from water relations in Erwinia chrysanthemi to fungicide baths in citrus packhouses.

Earlier, John also contributed to the invitation of international keynote speakers to congresses, starting with his professors and fellow students at Wisconsin. As such, Dr Arthur Kelman, Dr Paul Williams, Dr Don Hagedorn, Dr Noel Keen, and Dr Mike Stanghellini (University of Arizona) presented at our meetings in the 1980s and 1990s and the trend to invite prominent overseas speakers has continued ever since. He also worked from 1985 to 1993 in collaboration with Prof. Stanley Alcorn at the University of Arizona, Tucson, isolating organisms from diseased cacti in the desert in an effort to find a pathogen for controlling Opuntia aurantiaca. Prof. Mildenhall was elected a Fellow of the SASPP in 1990.

Pictures (below) of Prof. John Mildenhall in action at the 75th anniversary of the Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 1985 (Andrews, 2010).

As a gesture of generosity and belief in the well-being of the SASPP, John endowed a considerable amount of money on two occasions, collectively the largest sum received from any individual in the history of the society. Interest earned from this investment is used to finance the John and Petakin Mildenhall Award, comprising a certificate and cash payment to a deserving PhD graduate. John’s involvement in other events that have shaped the soul of SASPP congresses over the years includes midnight swimming sessions, a beer-drinking stunt, a canvas tent as congress venue at Cintsa, and many personal anecdotes of behind-the-scenes activities. The beer-drinking trick known as “Mildenhall Stakes”, soon perfected by the younger generation, has become a fixed and popular item on the agenda. John has shown unfailing support of, and enthusiasm for the society and is considered a true stalwart of the SASPP.

The first engagement of Prof. Neal McLaren to the plant pathology community dates to the early eighties when the SASPP was initiated as an independent Society form the South African Society of Microbiology. In 1986 he served as Secretary in the organization of the 24th conference at Golden Gate, and in 1994 he was the Chairman for organizing the 32nd SASPP Congress in Christiana. In 2003, Prof. McLaren was invited to present the JE Vanderplank Memorial address at the SASPP Conference. He served on the Finance Chair for the 2015 SASPP Congress in Bloemfontein.

Prof. McLaren was awarded his undergraduate BSc (botany and plant pathology) in 1977 from the University of Natal. He continued his Honours and MSc Plant Pathology degrees with a focus on pre- and post-emergence damping off and seedling blight of sorghum. In 1992, he competed his PhD in plant pathology at the University of Pretoria, with research titled, “Ergot of grain sorghum in South Africa”. He started his career in the plant pathology section of the Agricultural Research Council-Grain Crops Institute (ARC-GCI, Potchefstroom). During the completion of his post graduate degrees, he continued to work and advance his agricultural career at the ARC-GCI as a Research Officer and was promoted to a Specialist Scientist in 1995. In 2005, he accepted a position as Professor at the University of the Free State (UFS) to strengthen the division in field and applied plant pathology. During this period, he continued his research initiated at the ARC-GCI and initiated mycotoxin research associated with sorghum grain mold and maize ear rot, and diseases associated with sunflower. His dedication to plant pathology and crop protection went beyond our national borders and he was involved with multiple international institutions and funding bodies, to name a few INTSORMIL, Texas A&M/AgriLife Research and the Normal Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. Throughout his career Prof McLaren promoted scientific communitarians through multiple platforms and various audiences to ensure that he practiced what he preached, “that research should be good, but good for something” as stated by Norman Borlaug.

Following his retirement in 2018, Prof McLaren continued his involvement in plant pathology as a research fellow at the UFS until 2021. Since retirement, his activities have included whale watching and walks on the beach with his wife (Mrs Claire McLaren), and golf with retired colleagues, including Prof Zakkie Pretorius. In between these activities he still presents courses in epidemiology at two local universities.

Prof McLaren responded to the SASSP Honorary Membership award as follows: “I was both honoured and surprised; honoured, in the sense that the society considered my contribution to applied plant pathology, academia as well as service on the SASPP committee and various congress organizing committees, worthy of the award. The surprise lies in being rewarded for doing something that I regarded as a hobby, a field that provided numerous travel opportunities, the sharing of my research with local international colleagues (many became true friends). In the later years provided the privilege of being able to share in the development of young people and their preparation for adult life. This Honorary Membership is truly appreciated.” Reflecting on his career Prof McLaren says: “Suffice to say that the 40-odd year walk was a lot of fun with numerous opportunities to develop as a scientist, gain friendships locally and internationally, see the world, but most importantly, to serve the local agricultural sector. The SASPP played a significant role in all the above!! The congresses and local branch meetings not only provided the opportunities to develop networks to share technologies and philosophies with those who shared a common interest, but also to learn from those in other plant pathology-related fields. The practice of including as many international visitors as possible in congress programmes also provided exposure to different philosophies and technologies that contributed to growth and development as did the relationship between the SASPP and other international bodies, notably the ISPP. The platforms provided by the SASPP also allowed me to compare my research outputs with local and international peers and provided a measure of research quality. These also led to local and international research collaborations and hence research and post-graduate student funding.” According to Prof McLaren one of the great benefits of being a SASPP member was that he learnt that it is possible to drink a beer off the top of your head. He is grateful to the SASPP, not only for this award but also the many years of interaction, sharing and making plant pathology fun and wishes that the society will go from strength to strength over the next 40+ years.

Prof. ZA (Zakkie) Pretorius has been a long-standing member of the SASPP. He attended his first (SASPPM) congress in Pietermaritzburg in 1981. Zakkie has served the Society in many ways during his long and impressive career as a plant pathologist, as a council member (Secretary) from 1990-1993 and as President from 2003-2006. In addition, he assisted in organising congresses at Golden Gate (1986), Thaba Nchu (1995) and in Bloemfontein (2003 and 2015). He has made regular presentations on rusts at meetings personally and his research group has been an important part of the annual/biennial SASPP meeting programmes. In 2002, he delivered the Vanderplank lecture and in 2019 was invited to present a keynote address at the Club Mykonos Congress. He was elected a Fellow of the SASPP in 1999 and received the prestigious Christian Hendrik Persoon Medal in 2009.

During his active career, he specialised in rust diseases of important food crops. His main contributions, spanning more than 40 years, have concerned the wheat rusts. In South Africa he has been highly influential in generating momentum, expertise and continuity in cereal rust research and building a legacy currently being extended by his successor. His work has covered pathogen diversity, including the dangerous Ug99 variant of Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritci, and associated host plant resistance studies. Based on these efforts, more directed selection or breeding for rust resistance in crops, in particular cereals, has become possible in South Africa. His work resulted in extensive characterisation of several pathosystems, elucidation of the genes that remain effective in the host plant and which genes for virulence occur in the pathogen. Since more emphasis on durability of resistance is needed, research aimed at tools to incorporate and confirm multiple genes for rust resistance in cultivars has been a priority of his work.

Prof. Pretorius officially retired in 2017 but continued his involvement in plant pathology as a research fellow at the University of the Free State. Since retirement his activities have

Honorary membership of the SASPP from 1981–2019










Dr GJMA Gorter

Dr VA Wager

Dr GCA van der Westhuizen

Prof P Knox-Davies

Prof MJ Hattingh

Prof B von Wechmar

Dr CJ Rabie

Prof WFO Marasas

Prof FHJ Rijkenberg

Honorary Membership - Nominations

Honorary Membership is awarded to members, who have served the SASPP society for extended periods of time, usually throughout their careers. Honorary Membership is typically awarded to members at the end of their careers and at retirement. Although not mandatory, a guideline for this award is that it is made to leaders of the SASPP society, past office holders and recipients of major awards.


A nominee must:

  • Have at least ten (10) years of uninterrupted membership.
  • Have served and promoted the interests of the SASPP society.
  • Have made significant contributions to Plant Pathology in research, teaching, or extension services.
  • Any member of the SASPP society may nominate a candidate for the award.