“A rare case of restorative justice in the context of Apartheid laws at its worst.” This was how a relative of the late Dr. Shukri Effendi , the first black doctor to graduate from UCT, expressed his feelings after seeing that UCT was acknowledging this. Following a news item on the Faculty of Health Sciences website, Mr Hesham Neamatollah Effendi, a UCT alumnus of 1990, and near relative of Dr. Effendi, recently contacted Interim Dean Professor Hussey to thank UCT for acknowledging that his father's cousin was the first person of colour to qualify as a medical doctor from its medical school, in 1942.
A UCT Master’s student’s research in 2014 found that Dr Effendi had studied at Trafalgar High School, the first non-white school in South Africa, and graduated as a medical doctor from UCT in 1942. Previously, it was thought that the first three black medical doctors had graduated in 1945.
“This is, of course, relevant in the context of the history of Apartheid South Africa when universities were subject to strict laws of racial segregation,” says Mr Effendi. “It is an interesting fact that Dr. Shukri Effendi was admitted merely on the grounds of his physical appearance.”
“He looked decidedly ‘European’,” he explains of his relative, who had managed to complete his medical degree despite the fact that he was coloured and matriculated at Trafalgar High, a coloured school. Similarly, three decades later Dr Effendi’s future relative at UCT would experience similar assumptions about his racial classification due to his fair skin.
Mr Effendi is one of a number of ex-UCT students from the same family who are descendants of the late Prof. Abu Bakr Effendi, Dr Shukri Effendi’s grandfather. He recalls that when he applied to study at UCT in 1978, although he also looked ‘European’, he was refused. By this time, the Apartheid Laws were applied very stringently and you could only gain admission by producing an Identity Card – on his one it stated in bold red letters CAPE COLORED. He says that ‘miraculously’, the registrar at the time managed to get him admitted.
“While I was doing a Diploma in Specialised Education (Clinical Remedial), I was often questioned about my racial identity. I was the only coloured in a class of 23. The other students were none the wiser for physically I looked more ‘European’ than most of them.” Later, during the 1980s while doing Bioscience as a credit for his degree, the same thing happened. Then, as an employee (teacher) of the Department of Coloured Affairs and living in a Coloured suburb on the Cape Flats, he was questioned about his racial identity.
Of UCT’s knowledge of this, Mr Effendi relates a conversation with a ‘late Prof. Brown’ who had asked whether he was related to a Dr. Shukri Effendi, who was a former student. He told him that Dr Shukri was his father's first cousin. He recalls: “He said to me, "but you are Coloured." I said, "yes, but so was he”."
It was then that the professor said, "then he must have been the first Coloured person to qualify as a medical doctor at UCT." He told Mr Effendi that he would bring it to the attention of the Alumni Office of the university. Mr Effendi is not sure whether he did.
Dr Shukri Effendi was the first of a number from this family to graduate as medical doctors from UCT - Dr. Rusti Sedick (1957), Dr. Faieka Jappie (1980s), Dr. Malika Van Der Schyff (1996, now a gynaecologist) and her sister Dr. Aziza Van Der Schyff (2002, now a paediatrician).