Working Women: #13 Nikki Kohly

Nikki Kohly at the Green Fund Run in Grahamstown.

Nikki Kohly at the Green Fund Run in Grahamstown. Photo:Jane Berg.

Nikki’s environmental passion has been a lifelong affair.

From the age of five, she somehow knew that she never wanted to produce children. It was as if at some deep, visceral level, she sensed the planet was already beginning to groan under the burden of human expansion and greed.

A late ‘baby-boomer’, Nikki grew up on a farm, with dad a dominant ‘type A’ German ‘ruler’ and mom a compliant English housewife. In those days, the view was that women got married and had babies and men were the breadwinners. Though she dreamed of being a game ranger, or maybe a vet, an old-fashioned private girls’ school helped dissolve any emancipated aspirations Nikki might have had.

By the time she matriculated in 1980, she had absolutely no idea what to do with her life. Her parents helpfully suggested a secretarial course – “something to fall back on” – possibly a stopgap until a knight in shining armour came along to save her? Nikki’s first job – after the secretarial course – was as a laboratory assistant, on a salary of R240 a month. Thankfully her superiors recognised her potential, even if she didn’t, and urged her to study further.

She chose Rhodes, mainly because it was the smallest University in the country. In 1985, she graduated with a BSc in Entomology and Microbiology, and was astonished when she managed to get a job soon after that.

After a long and chequered journey, which has included a few study breaks, Nikki has ended up working as the Safety, Health & Environmental Officer for Rhodes University. To this end, she completed a NOSA Safety, Health and Environment Management Training Course (SAMTRAC) in 2010 – the same year that she graduated with a Master of Education (Environmental Education). She has set up and manages the university’s health and safety system, and her tasks include providing training, convening meetings, developing policies and protocols, carrying out inspections, and providing support and guidance regarding health and safety requirements.

She has also served for three years as the secretary for SHECASA (Safety Health and Environment Campus Association of South Africa), since it was launched in 2012.

In her spare time, Nikki enjoys her indigenous garden, together with chickens, worm farming and composting, solar water heating, rainwater collection, waterless sanitation and grey water systems. She also loves being with her animals, and spending time outdoors.

Words by Nikki Kohly.


South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. This August, GAP is publishing a micro-profile a day on women working in Grahamstown in 2015.


About the photographer: Jane Berg is a photojournalist working in Grahamstown and finishing her Bachelor of Journalism Degree at Rhodes University. She is the Media Officer for The Gender Action Project. You can see more of her work at www.janebergphotography.tumblr.com and on her Facebook page.

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