Reunion roundup

Reunions held in 2010: Class of 1960 reunion

It was in August 2009 that Geraldine Mitton and I decided to assist the Alumni Officer, Mrs Joan Tuff of the University of Cape Town, Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) (note this change of name from Medical School) to organize the class reunion. Wieland Gevers agreed to support us as required.

We established that in 1960, 84 students had graduated. There were 66 men and 18 women, the latter a surprisingly high number as this was prior to the arrival of the era of feminism.

Starting with the alumni list we attempted to make contact with as many of our colleagues as possible. Many phone calls, emails and a few Skypes were made by Joan, Geraldine and myself. We contacted Ruth Horner for assistance as she had lived in London and now was living in Israel and she wa s most helpful in contacting a number of our ex-classmates.

Thirty three members of the class had addresses overseas, 28 in South Africa, 12 were deceased and 11 were lost to contact.

The final number of those who attended the 2010 function was 20. With their partners we had a total of 29 present at most of the functions.


Ismail Abdurahman, Harry Brenner, Derrick Burns, Wieland Gevers, Margaret Hoffman, Ruth Horner, Hyam Joffe, Dick Kukard, Brian Mather, Manasa Merkel, Zelik Misnuner, Geraldine Mitton, Santilal Parbhoo, Harold Spilg, Franziska (Kinny) Zeiher, Andrew Tiltman, Beulah van Coller, Ati van der Leek, Robert van der Linden, Vivienne Zinober.

We were disappointed with this small number as it was less than those who had attended 50th class reunions in previous years. We believe that there were a number of reasons for this. The Sharpeville massacre occurred in the year we graduated with 69 people killed and many injured. This led many of the group to leave South Africa either immediately after graduation or after their housemanship. They feared that this might be the beginning of the revolution and that there was no future for them in South Africa. More practically, due to the world wide economic recession it is presently expensive to travel to South Africa. This has been reinforced by the international press describing violence in this country which limits the perception of SA as a desirable tourist attraction.

Furthermore the years when we were medical students covered the dark ages of apartheid. Certain "black" students in the class were not keen to attend the reunion as their years at medical school had not been a pleasant experience. They had to receive special permission to register at UCT and had the indignity of having to leave the postmortem rooms if a white body was being dissected as well as the lecture theatres if a white patient was being presented. Since the election of a democratic government, every attempt has been made to compensate for these inequities and inequalities. But the memories remain.

We were thrilled that Santilal Parbhoo from London and Ismail Abdurahman from Sydney were present. It was interesting that, during discussion after the formal dinner on Saturday evening, one of them mentioned that they had spoken more to their white colleagues during the weekend than during their six years of study. We were all victims of the societal pressures at the time and were now able to rejoice that the situation was very different from that of the sixties.

In contrast to 1960, in the graduating class of 2010, there were 189 students of whom 114 were women, 65 were black, 61 white, 35 coloured and 24 Indian.


Friday, 10 December

On the morning of Friday 10 December we met in the new post graduate seminar room in the Barnard Fuller building in order to register. The anticipation and excitement were palpable as many of us had last seen each other 50 years ago. Would we recognise one another? We need not have worried for, within a few minutes, there was much chatting and reminiscing which continued throughout the weekend. Indeed it was often a problem to intervene so as to proceed with the programme.

The first event of the weekend following registration was a guided tour of the New Learning Centre by Professor Laurie Kellaway of Human Biology. He described the move away from didactic lectures to large bodies of students to smaller groups using the more modern Problem Based Learning Methods. Computers are available to allow students to explore the internet and also to present projects in a more professional format. The overall aim of these problem solving methods was to introduce the student to life long learning.

Following this visit the shuttle bus took the group up to the old Groote Schuur Hospital to the Heart of Cape Town Museum. This commemorates the great moment of the world's first heart transplant on December 3, 1967. A team led by Professor Christiaan Neethling Barnard performed the operation in the Charles Saint Theatre of Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital in Observatory.

Today the Heart of Cape Town Museum honours all those who played a major role in a surgical feat that pushed the boundaries of medical science into a new era. A and B theatres are the original general surgery theatres used for the first heart transplant. They remain laid out to create a fully authentic representation of the pioneering operation as does the office of Prof Chris Barnard. In addition we viewed an interesting video describing the events that led up to the operation. The operating theatres were exactly as they were in our day except for the sluice room and there was much nostalgia shared amongst us.

We then returned to HSF to lunch in the Dean's suite which had graciously been made available to us by the dean and deputy dean. Many of the group mentioned that they had never had access to these hallowed rooms during their days at "medical school". The afternoon as spent at leisure.

We reassembled at 18h00 for a cocktail party in the Wolfson Pavilion where we were given a welcoming address by the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Marian Jacobs. She spoke about the transformation in the Faculty, how students were selected and described the new curriculum. She spoke very positively of the future of medical education in South Africa. She also commented on colleagues present who had previously been her teachers.

The Wolfson Pavilion in the new Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine building was Wieland Gevers' brain child. It is situated between the old Pathology and Anatomy blocks and has a bridge connecting it to the Falmouth Building thus bringing together a number of disciplines. This it has done most successfully in spite, as Wieland told us, of being called Wieland's Folly at the time of its completion.

Saturday, 11th

We met at 9h30 in the lecture theatre of the Wolfson Pavilion for the Academic Programme. Margaret Hoffman acted as chairperson and, before introducing the speakers, thanked Joan for her hard work and for putting together an excellent programme.

Wieland Gevers related his life subsequent to graduation, especially his time at Medical School. He described the changes he had witnessed in many areas. Most of them he approved of but he worried that, by moving away from didatic lectures, there were essential areas in the education of the students that were not covered.

Harry Brenner discussed oncology in Israel and his experiences of setting up an Oncology Centre at Tel Hashomer and his present situation where he is now setting up a similar centre in China.

Santilal Parbhoo gave a most interesting talk on medical advances through the eyes of a philatelist.

Margaret Hoffman showed a slide of the 2010 graduating class and compared it according to number, gender and race with our own group of 1960. She also commented on how the dress of students had changed from formal suits and ties for men and dresses for women to informal outfits, mainly jeans. She provided statistics on the current demography of South Africa and those relating to HIV/AIDS and the recent developments in Women's Health.

This was followed by lunch in the cafeteria in the Wolfson Pavilion. Following this a number of our colleagues went off on the optional tour of the District Six Museum in Cape Town.

At 19h00 we met at the Barnard Fuller building for our gala dinner. Prior to the dinner we were meant to have a class photo in the courtyard outside the old Path Block but unfortunately a black south easter (the Cape doctor) was blowing and as a result we were driven indoors for the photo and assembled near the Mac Club where the dinner was held.

Prior to the dinner, a minutes silence was observed in memory of our colleagues who were no longer with us.

We sadly noted that we had received a letter from Syd Alstadt's wife, Judy, describing his experiences since leaving Medical School. Syd had died in October 2010 having suffered Parkinson's disease for many years. Also shortly before the reunion, Mannie Cloete had died. He had in fact been intending to join us.

Following dinner, Wieland Gevers introduced Vice-Chancellor, Max Price, who was the guest speaker. He eloquently described the changes that were occurring at the University. He highlighted the ways in which transformation was taking place and emphasised the importance of correcting past inequalities both in medicine and elsewhere in the university.

He described the new mission to establish UCT as a global institution of higher learning which would provide graduates with qualifications that are internationally recognized and locally applicable. UCT promotes diversity and transformation within the institution and beyond including growing the next generation of academics. There are now 24 000 students at the university and it will be spending 1 billion rand on capital projects over the next 3 years. At the many alumni meetings he has attended both at home and abroad he has been met by enthusiastic support for UCT.

Class mates were then asked to comment and give a short resumé of their own experiences since graduation. Various people spoke and a few representative stories are given below.

Vivienne Zinobar told us of the influence her father had on her career. Hyam Joffe described his experiences setting up the paediatric intensive care unit. Derrick Burns spoke of how fortunate we were to be at med school during the golden age of clinical teachers. He mentioned how lucky we were to have role models like Frankie Forman, Mark Horwitz, Ruben Mibashan, Sir Raymond (Bill) Hoffenberg and many others. Derrick also gave an update on John Ackermann, who was not well enough to attend and it was decided to send him a letter of well wishes and greetings from our class. Subsequently John responded by email which was forwarded to all.

Andrew Tiltman spoke of the excellent teachers in the laboratory sciences. These included Prof Arthur Kipps, Prof van de Ende who, during our year, became Dean and, of course, the Scotsman Professor Thompson with his bushy red eyebrows. Andrew had become Professor of Pathology at UCT and mentioned that 25% of the class had entered laboratory science.

Sunday, 12th

A smaller group met on a beautiful day at Kirstenbosch where the sun was shining, the birds chirping and not a breath of wind. The tour of the gardens was led by Professor Pat Bowerbank, former head of Physiotherapy. She volunteers as a guide at the gardens and is extremely knowledgeable. We learnt much from her.

This was followed by lunch in the garden restaurant. We then sadly said goodbye.

The weekend was over but we all agreed that, in spite of the relatively small numbers of former classmates attending the reunion, it had been a wonderful occasion.

Margaret Hoffman
February 2011