40-Year-Reunion of the Medical Class of 1976General

Jubilant classmates at their 40-year-Reunion.Jubilant classmates at their 40-year-Reunion.

UKZN’s  Medical Class of 1976 held their 40-year reunion at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast with former classmates - all prominent health professionals living all over the world - making the effort to attend the memorable occasion.

Said class representative, Dr Tygie S Nadesan: ‘Thinking of Alan Taylor Residence brings flashbacks of security branch raids, always late at night and especially on weekends. They herded us from our rooms onto the rugby field looking for student leaders and banned books.’

Nadesan, a prominent family physician in Durban, still maintains a strong link with Medical students at UKZN by assisting them in their journey to find a meaningful purpose through the Christian faith.

Emeritus Professor of Surgery at UKZN, Professor Thandinkosi Madiba, said: ‘Although the Medical School was in Umbilo, a White area, we, as Black students, were not allowed to stay in the University residences because they were in a White area. Thus we had to stay at the Alan Taylor Residence situated in Wentworth. Curfew did not allow Black students to be in town after a certain hour in the evening. This meant that we had to be in Wentworth by nightfall. Also we could not interact with other students who happened to be White and stayed in the University residences.’

Madiba, a recognised authority on diseases of the colon, rectum and anus by peers both nationally and internationally, is also eThekwini’s Living Legend. Madiba was also awarded twice the Distinguished Teachers’ award by UKZN and the ‘Best Lecturer’ prize for 10 consecutive years by UKZN Medical students. This year, he was awarded the South African Medical Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr Reena Ramsaroop, currently based in New Zealand, said: ‘Of course one cannot escape or ignore the political environment we were in.  This was intimately entwined in our everyday learning.  For me it was a revelation, a realisation that there were so many intelligent and brilliant people who were forced to support themselves financially through Medical School.  My respect for fellow class mates increased tremendously. Our medical training scheme - irrespective of the great number of disadvantages including racial discrimination, lack of training facilities, equipment that continuously broke down and wards with total lack of privacy -  produced a quality of doctors that are well respected and sought after overseas.

‘The Class of 76 were fortunate as well in many respects. They had the honour of attending meetings led by the late Stephen Bantu Biko. Memorable were those meetings watching and listening to Steve Biko, who was briefly in our class – second year – he was an amazing speaker and listening to him convinced me that we had to fight for change. It is these moments that strengthen personalities and I changed from being a “quiet shy Indian girl that concentrated on studying” to a person with a deeper understanding of the socio-political environment.’

‘We were certainly abused by our lecturers.  My thoughts were that they either did not want to teach “Black” students but had to, or that it was a sadistic pleasure to be in a position of power.  Coming from secondary schools where our teachers recognised our potential, were encouraging and extremely supportive, to an environment of insults, put downs and shouting, was an educational shock,’ said Ramsaroop.

Ramsaroop is an Anatomical Pathologist in Auckland, New Zealand. She was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) instituted under a Royal Warrant signed by Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of New Zealand, in recognition for her work in breast cancer. She also belongs to the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation where she is the Chair of the Medical Advisory Committee. Ramsaroop set up the Breast Cancer Tissue Bank at Waitemata DHB so that advanced research into Breast Cancer can be done.

Dr Naseem Isaacs, currently based in Australia recalled the unity and shared experiences, ‘We were the last of the small classes so our teaching was superb. Met people from all walks of life. Many were poor (including myself) but we did not let that get in our way. The only life we knew was Medicine. We could not afford to spend another year behind so we worked very hard. We enjoyed it, hated it at times but the outcome was fantastic. Today we take our place influencing people’s lives. So many of us have been struck down with afflictions but this has never stopped us.’

Other prominent members of the class include Emeritus Professor Malegapuru William Makgoba who is a leading South African immunologist, physician, public health advocate, academic and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. In 2013 he was recognised as ‘a pioneer in Higher Education transformation’, by being awarded the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver. This year, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi announced that Makgoba would be South Africa’s first health ombudsman, who will process patient complaints against health practitioners, hospitals and clinics, across both the private and public sectors.

Another well-known classmate is Professor Maila John Matjila who served as a former Deputy Dean of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and is now Head of Public Health Medicine at the University of Pretoria. Robert E. Stowell Endowed Chair in Experimental Pathology, Director of the Laboratory for Atherosclerosis and Metabolic Research, and Professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Clinical Nutrition and Vascular Medicine, at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center; Professor Ishwarlal Jialal also attended the reunion. Jialal is an award-winning researcher who has published more than 380 original papers in the areas of diabetes, atherosclerosis, lipid metabolism, nutrition and vascular biology.

Keynote speaker at the reunion was UKZN’s former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Humanities and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zululand, Professor Fikile Mazibuko.

MaryAnn Francis