UKZN Alumnus Honoured with Human Rights Award
Dr Perisamy Neelaphithambaran Govender, affectionately known as PN by his friends, was recently honoured by the South African Medical Association (SAMA) with a Human Rights award in recognition of the significant contribution he made to his profession and community.
The 88-year-old UKZN alumnus was presented with the Medal of Transformation, Equity and Justice by South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, who is also a UKZN alumnus, at a glittering ball held in Sun City.
‘Every two years, a call goes out for doctors to nominate colleagues whom they feel have made a significant contribution to the profession, their communities or to SAMA,’ said Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, SAMA National Chairman. ‘This year, like previous years, the Education, Science and Technology committee had the difficult task of deliberating on some very esteemed nominations. The criteria for the Medal of Transformation, Equity and Justice award includes taking up the fight in the cause for transformation, justice and equity. The individual campaigns for justifiable changes within the medical fraternity, equal opportunity across the race or class divide, academia, industry, state structures and the community. This person may also champion the cause of equity in the delivery of medical and healthcare services, especially to the poor, needy, indigent as well as the disabled,’ said Grootboom.
Govender graduated with an MBChB from the then University of Natal (now UKZN) in 1964. He worked in the Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King Edward VIII Hospital and in 1967, he was dismissed for leading a protest against racially disparate salary scales. He subsequently commenced practice as a Family Practitioner in the south of Durban. In 1968, he walked out of the Medical Association of South Africa (MASA) and formed the Medical Guild in Durban. In 1972, he actively campaigned against racial discrimination in the South African Medical and Dental Council. He was instrumental in blocking the removal of Black students from the former University of Natal (now UKZN) between 1973 to 1975. With the assistance of Professors Jerry Coovadia and Walter Loening, he helped form the National Medical and Dental Association (NAMDA), an alternative to MASA from 1978 to 1983. He played a key role in facilitating NAMDA’s incorporation into the United Democratic Front whilst at the same time defending private doctors’ rights to dispense medication.
He obtained his Master’s Degree in Family Medicine (MPrax Med) from the former University of Natal in 1986 and his Fellowship of the College of Family Physicians in 2006. He served as an honorary lecturer in Family Medicine in the 1990s. In 1987, he helped unify the various family practitioner organisations. He was highly active in medical politics and was a member of NAMDA, Society of Dispensing Family Practitioners and the National Medical and Dental Forum.
In 1998, Govender decided to be part of the unity movement in SAMA and played an active part in unifying the profession. He served on the Board of Directors of SAMA from 1998 to 2009 and was President of SAMA during 2003-2004. He was elected to the association’s Education, Science and Technology (EST) committee from 1998 to 2003 and was a very dynamic Chair of the EST committee. He led a march to parliament in 2004 to complain about the parlous state of the public sector and the lack of access of ARVs to public sector patients. Under his guidance, Merit Awards were once again introduced to SAMA in 2004. He has served on various committees of the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
In 2015, at his own expense, he established a medical camp in Chatsworth, Durban, to provide medical assistance to the victims of xenophobic violence.
Apart from his medical interests, he is a keen scholar of the English literature, philosophy and Indian history and has seriously dabbled in writing. He has authored several books, amongst them Beyond the Stethoscope - Case Book of a Township Doctor.
At the age of 88, he is still serving his community.
Words: Mergan Naidoo