Dean's Desk: Celebrating 110 years

13 Jun 2022
13 Jun 2022

Celebrating 110 years

Today, the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences celebrates 110 years since it was established on this sacred land, aptly named by our Khoe forebears Igamirodi !khaes or ‘the place of the stars’. This milestone is coloured by the countless stories of our ancestors – stories that are intricately woven into the fabric of what the Faculty has become, stories of hurt and pain and also stories of hope, stories of healing.

We acknowledge the stories of the indigenous Camissa people who depended on this land under the shadow of Table Mountain (Hoerikwaggo or ‘the mountain of the sea’) as a valuable source of both physical and spiritual health.

We recall the story of Barnard Fuller who dreamt about building a medical school at the foot of Table Mountain. “Looking into the future, I see before me as in a vision a great teaching University arising under the shadow of old Table Mountain and a part of that University is composed of a well-equipped Medical School,” he told a local branch of the medical association in 1907.

We remember the son of a poor missionary from Beaufort West, born 100 years ago, who enrolled at UCT with ambitious dreams of becoming a doctor. Later, Chris Barnard would go on to make medical history when he and his medical team (including talented laboratory assistant, Hamilton Naki) performed the first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967. The anaesthetist on that occasion was Joseph Ozinsky and the nursing staff was led by Peggy Jordaan.

We honour the story of a child prodigy with a bright gleaming smile who hailed from a little town called Ngqamakhwe, in the Eastern Cape. After achieving the highest marks in his matriculation examinations at the tender age of fifteen (with six distinctions), Bongani Mawethu Mayosi would become only the seventh Professor of Medicine and Head of UCT and Groote Schuur Hospital’s Department of Medicine in its 87-year history.

Our stories also reflect the deep pain and injustices inflicted in our name even as we commit to ensuring that the darkest chapters in our history are never repeated. We recognise the pain and humiliation experienced by many in our Faculty.

We salute those who had the courage to speak truth to power during some of the most turbulent times in our history. We think of Frances Ames, a neurologist, who played a significant role in exposing the involvement of healthcare professionals in the torture and death of Steve Biko. We think of Neil Aggett, the union doctor, who challenged the social conditions that people were living and working under during apartheid, and paid the highest price. We think of Dumo Baqwa, a political activist and leader within the Black Consciousness Movement, who would later become the first Professor of Primary Health Care in 1995. We think of ‘the people’s doctor’ Aadil Moerat who administered support and first aid training in the townships during the political unrest. We think of Ivan Toms, a doctor, who refused to serve in the military and who went on a hunger strike in protest against the government’s decision to bulldoze Crossroads. Former Vice-Chancellor Njabulo Ndebele said, “Ivan Toms will long be remembered for his fierce opposition to apartheid and conscriptions, as well as for his tenacious campaigning for gay and lesbian rights. His sense of humility and genuine empathy, combined with a deep understanding of the myriad issues that affect health and well-being have made a lasting impact on healthcare in the region”.

All of these histories are being retold in the living stories around us. We recognise those personal stories inscribed as they are into the success of our ongoing academic project - our cleaners, drivers, security, lab assistants, as well as administrative and support staff.

Sithi sawubona. We see you and we care about your story.

We celebrate Leon Ziervogel, the longest-standing member of the Operations team for his 24 years of service. We celebrate Paul Rossouw, who joined the Faculty at the tender age of nineteen and has seen “quite a few Deans come and go” during his 32-year-tenure. He fondly recalls working as a lab assistant in the physiology department preparing students’ practicals before undertaking night studies in information technology. Paul has served as the Faculty’s IT Manager since 2020. “I love interacting with people. This job allows me to interact with people in every department at FHS. I also enjoy the people I work with as we have a lot of camaraderie between us.”

If we listen to each other with compassion, we begin to see reflections of ourselves even in those who appear to be very different.

We understand more clearly. We connect more deeply. We can identify with our complex histories and commit to building a future of belonging.

We can

Starting today, we will mark the 110th anniversary of the founding of this Faculty through a variety of events for the remainder of the year. We will mark our emergence from a difficult decade. We will listen to stories we may not have heard before. We will recognise in our shared stories and often contested legacies the promise that they call us to - make a difference in our world.

In this next decade, we must listen to voices from the margins with deeper compassion, we must walk into old and new spaces and relationships with humility, and act with greater vigour reflecting justice and accountability.

Kaise ke gangans

Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson

Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences