Address by President Nelson Mandela on being awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the College of Medicine of South Africa

17 October 1995

Dr. Tucker;
Members of the College Council
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen.

The eminent standing of the College of Medicine and the capacity of the medical profession to do good, makes a Fellowship of the College a high honour indeed. As a lay person in the field of health, I am only too aware that by this award you are honouring the aspirations of the nation we are all building together. It is in that spirit that I humbly and proudly accept the Honorary Fellowship.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the College. Over the past four decades it has produced medical specialists, professors and researchers who are recognised world-wide. Its unique inclusion under one roof of all the medical disciplines is particularly advantageous for the kind of health system our country needs.

Inscribed in the Credo of the College is a commitment to equitable access to education, health and other social services. Entrenched there, too, is a commitment to serve all the people of South Africa.

The great challenge is to translate that enriching vision into concrete reality. Much is to be done to overcome the effects of decades of apartheid neglect.

The South African Medical and Dental Council has taken commendable steps to restructure itself and to orient itself more towards primary health care. But no-one, I think, would regard these steps as more than a beginning.

Amongst the urgent tasks is that of turning the medical profession into a truly South African institution. The College is therefore charges with ensuring the removal of all barriers that have limited the advance of disadvantaged communities, more specifically blacks - that is African, Coloured and Indian people - and women.

The medical profession is particularly well-placed to help realise the vision of a caring and compassionate society. As role models you can help ensure that doctors, dentists and other health professionals enjoy unqualified respect, trust and credibility.

Health professionals have a contract with society. It is about protection and standards, and includes expectations onboth ides.

This requires appreciation of the desperate needs of our people for basic health care; sensitivity to the conditions and aspirations of those working in health care; and partnership between government and all the role-players.

In this regard I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those working within our health care system for their fortitude and dedication in this stressful period.

In particular the majority of nurses are to be commended for putting their confidence in negotiations as the way in which to address the serious need for an improvement in their pay and working conditions. We trust that this will soon include all nurses without exception.

As we reflect on the conditions of work in health care, we are mindful of the cold-blooded murder of Dr. Stephen Pon in the course of his duties, by hijackers. A few days before that Dr. Prakash Vallabh lost his life at the hands of these criminals. Everyone who uses our roads, especially those whose work exposes them to special risks, has the right to feel safe. Let our anger at these tragic events translate into a new determination to work together to make South Africa a safer place. In the meanwhile the Gauteng police have been put on full alert around medical facilities, where doctors and other health workers are particularly vulnerable.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Globally, medical education is being criticised for lacking relevance to primary health care, and for not keeping pace with the explosion of scientific information. But I am confident that your college fully appreciates the challenges.

This was splendidly captured at the African Regional Conference on Medical Education last April in Cape Town, where you and your colleagues reaffirmed your commitment to medical education reform in Africa.

But noting that such recommendations have in the past not been implemented, the conference resolved to set up structures to ensure systematic follow-up. This is to be commended.

Mr President;

The College, like other sectors of our society, faces a formidable challenge. I am confident that you will continue to rise to that challenge and, in so doing, contribute towards a better life for all South Africans.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation