Why the need for Transformation in the FHS?
As South Africa emerged post apartheid from decades of systematic racial discrimination, institutions in the health sector, particularly those involved in higher education, grappled with how transformation should best be effected, and what role human rights awareness should play in such transformation. Testimonies to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Special Hearings on the Health Sector in June 1997 exposed the widespread and systematic allegiance of health professions to apartheid ideology and the role played by higher education institutions in perpetuating discrimination.
Apartheid defined the context of all Universities and health training institutions in South Africa pre-1994, as a result of which racial discrimination was commonplace in students' training. The University of Cape Town and the Health Science Faculty (then Medical School) were not immune to racist, sexist, and other discriminatory practices and values that typified wide society under apartheid. Our training curricula were such that students emerged with technical skills but did not develop a critical understanding of, or appreciation for the human rights, that challenge doctors, nurses and other health workers. Students were trained in discriminatory environments and saw, and experienced, daily, the unequal treatment meted out to black patients and staff under apartheid health care.
In order to overcome this legacy, the Health Sciences Faculty sees the role of the Transformation and Equity portfolio and its various programmes for institutional transformation, as critical. Although also a response to legal and policy imperatives, the Faculty's Transformation Programme is firmly driven by a commitment to self-reflection that is seen as both educationally sound and as morally appropriate.
We believe that only by self-reflection and analysis, can we understand what went wrong in the past, in order to transform our current programmes for realizing our goals in future.
Looking back does not imply dwelling on the wrongs of the past, but understanding where and how things went wrong, and acknowledging pain and injustice, in order to do things better in future. As one of our black alumni stated, reconciliation will be useful if it is "A clear statement that the purpose of examining the past is not to embarrass anybody; it is to avoid the evils of the past".