Lecture Unpacks UKZN’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine Political History
The Medical Campus Representative Council (MCRC) hosted a political class that unpacked the history of UKZN’s Medical School.
Welcoming guests, MCRC Chairperson and Medical student, Mr Tholumusa Sibiya noted that the event was the first of its kind and that it is important to conscientise students on the Medical School’s rich heritage.
Mr Fanele Gina, Medical student and MCRC College representative reflected on the purpose of the day and noted the importance of inviting students to the event as a form of introspection: ‘We need to remember that we don’t exist in a silo but within the community of South Africa, and we should use the voice we have as UKZN students and future doctors to make an impact.’
Honourable Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who spoke at the event said that the Medical School has a very deep and broad history of activism which has left an indelible mark on the history of South Africa. She noted that African, Coloured and Indian Medical students were viewed as second- and third-class citizens during apartheid and weren’t allowed to use the University residences, buses, blazers or be part of the sports teams. ‘However, that didn’t deter us, as we were determined to change the system,’ she said.
Dlamini-Zuma who was exiled due to her activism in the African National Congress (ANC) did not complete her studies at the Medical School but was later recognised by the University with an Honorary degree. Sharing some history of the area surrounding the Medical School that was acquired through land disposition she said that they were only allowed to practice at King Edward Hospital. ‘The oppression and how we were treated did not define us, we defined ourselves.’
Dlamini-Zuma listed some of the many prominent figures who studied at the Medical School including: Dr Mamphela Ramphele; Dr Aaron Motsoaledi; South Africa’s current First Lady Dr Tshepo Motsepe; Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba; Dr Diliza Mji; Professor Samuel Mokgokong; and Professor Hoosen Coovadia, among others.
She noted that the apartheid government found ways to oppress them at school and at home which led to the Medical School being a ‘vibrate hub of political activism and a reservoir of brains and leadership that fuelled all passions of our liberation struggle’. Nonetheless, students found ways to make themselves happy by throwing “gumbas” - parties.
Reflecting on the Medical School as the spiritual home of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) which was led by Steve Biko and formed in response to the lack of integration of Black students she quoted Biko: ‘If there are true liberals they must realise that they themselves are oppressed and that they must fight for their own freedom and not that of the nebulous with whom they can hardly claim identification.’
Dlamini-Zuma remarked on the COVID-19 curfew and joked that these were not the first curfews; the apartheid government used this weapon of oppression against Black people. She said that although times have changed the struggle is still largely defined by race, class, gender and rural and urban divides. The laws may have changed but mindsets, attitudes and conditions on the ground persist.
Commenting on education as the best and quickest equaliser Dlamini-Zuma advocated for a skills revolution and said that without education and skills, it will be challenging to deal with inequality and unemployment, create jobs, and change the economy.
Turning to Women’s Month, she noted that progress has been made in achieving pay parity amongst men and women, but much remains to be done for women to be regarded as equals especially in sports. Dlamini-Zuma called on men to end the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide by protecting women and speaking out against the perpetrators.
Admiring her generation’s ability to identify the struggle for equality and to fight for it, she remarked that, as students, they had to be revolutionaries and servants who served their communities through service delivery: ‘The enemy was clear and well defined during the apartheid era; today the enemy may be less visible but its effects of poverty, unemployment and inequality can still be seen.
‘There is an ever-growing need for revolutionary doctors and activists… and we are duty bound to advance the struggles of the poor especially in this cold capitalist world we are living in, where the value of life is unequal and determined by access to wealth and opportunities.’
Alumnus and UKZN Convocation President, Dr Qiniso Mlita encouraged student leaders to embrace diversity, practice discipline, seek to learn and listen to others. He added that the challenges confronting South Africa require everyone to work together in finding solutions.
Mlita also urged student doctors to aspire to make a difference in their communities and contribute to socio-economic restructuring. Student doctors should join political structures and be the change that they want to see, because ‘the economy is still in the hands of the few’.
Closing the event, Dean and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine Professor Ncoza Dlova acknowledged the current MCRC as one of the best in her tenure and said that, as an alumnus, the theme of the lecture was close to her heart. Speaking on behalf of Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences Professor Busisiwe Ncama she said: ‘We thank the MCRC for co-ordinating this event which explores the important political history of this Medical School.
‘While it is important to spend time and resources on shaping the future and the path you want to travel, it is equally important to pause every now and then and reflect on where you come from.’
Ncoza noted that luminaries such as Steve Biko, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Sbongiseni Dlomo, etc. started their political journeys at the Medical School as participants in student organisations and underground structures.
She added that the Medical School will continue its duty of producing selfless medical professionals who understand that the profession is not merely about making money but requires a higher calling of serving one’s community.
To watch the lecture, click here.
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela
Photograph: Sethu Dlamini