History of the Division

The first recognized mental health programmes for children and adults with intellectual disability in the Western Cape Province were initiated by Professor Vera Grover, a University of Cape Town Psychologist and then Director of the Child Guidance Clinic. During a career spanning the 1950s to 1980s, she was the forerunner in clinical and public service provision, teaching and advocacy for people with intellectual disability. Professor Grover provided scholarly leadership to the services for individuals with intellectual disability, who were largely treated at Alexandra Hospital, but also beyond hospital settings. Another noted UCT academic and clinician, the late Emeritus Professor Frances Ames, Professor of Neurology, dedicated a number of years to service and teaching at Alexandra Hospital in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 2012, the refurbished Alexandra Hospital Outpatient Department was dedicated to Professor Ames.

A bequest from Vera Grover allowed a Professorship in Intellectual Disability to be established at UCT in collaboration with Alexandra Hospital in 1992 (initially referred to as the “Chair of Mental Handicap”, reflecting terminology of the era). Although there were preceding academic activities, the Division as such was formalized in 1995, with the first incumbent in the Vera Grover Chair being Prof Chris Molteno. Prof Colleen Adnams, the second incumbent of the Vera Grover Chair, retired in 2017. Prof Sharon Kleintjes currently heads the Division. In 2012 the Division established an MPhil in Intellectual Disability Mental Health, open to postgraduate multidisciplinary health professionals who are working in the field and are registered with the Health Professions Council (HPCSA) the South African Nursing Council (SANC) and the South African Council for Social Services Professions (SACSSP). 


The Groote Schuur UCT Department accommodates the Vera Grover Chair, non-patient related research activities and access to general Departmental administrative support. The Division’s clinical service platform is based at two regional Psychiatric Hospitals, Alexandra Hospital in Maitland and Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital in Mitchells Plain, offering in-and outpatient mental health care for complex psychiatric and behavioural presentations in children, adolescents and adults with intellectual and developmental disability. The establishments have approximately 300 and 250 Intellectual Disability Service (IDS) beds respectively; Alexandra Hospital has 34 acute beds and Lentegeur Hospital IDS has 15 child and adolescent beds. Both provide outpatient services and medium- and long-term care in a number of wards. Although nearly 500 adults with intellectual disability were de-institutionalised from both hospitals in 2008-2009, many with severe and profound intellectual disability remain in long-term care, a legacy of the era of institutionalisation and custodial care of people with mental illness and intellectual disability.

Recent publications

A recent article by Siyabulela Mkabile and Leslie Swartz published in the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disability is entitled Caregivers' and parents' explanatory models of intellectual disability in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. The article is available here.

Annual conference 2020

The Division of Intellectual Disability, part of the University of Cape Towns Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, held their annual conference on the 6th October 2020. The title of the conference was Legal and Ethical Concerns regarding people with intellectual disability. Dr Peter Smith and Ms Maryam Abbas of the Division of ID convened the national mini-conference of clinicians, policy makers and other sector stakeholders to promote discussion of key concerns in the field. The conference was delivered online and recorded with the permission of the speakers. It comprised of four sessions. Links to the talks on Youtube are available below

Prof Pillay
Dr Mulutsi and Dr Smith
Prof Kaliski and Dr Nagdee
Ms Ntaka and summation