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All the facts and opinions surrounding the development of a full medical school for Limpopo province

THE DRAMA OF BEING ALIVE IN AFRICA What a difference a playwright-in-residence makes to the performing arts at Turfloop

MEET THE MERGER VIPs PROFESSOR TEBOGO MOKGORO UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO INTERIM COUNCIL CHAIRMAN ‘The merger represents the government’s intention to reverse the effects and ravages of apartheid and to ensure that our institutions of higher learning are repositioned to deliver on the strategic objectives of South African society – and to play a role in the reconstruction of Africa in terms of the principles and objectives of NEPAD. Indeed, we should all be persuaded to see the merger as responding to the drive to create a better South Africa, a better Africa, and a better world.’ See page 12

PROFESSOR MAHLO MOKGALONG UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO INTERIM VICE-CHANCELLOR ‘Those involved in the merger will be able to look back with pride on the pioneering role they have played in the establishment of the University of Limpopo. Its genesis is our joint contribution towards the transformation of tertiary education in South Africa. I am keenly aware of the anxieties and uncertainties that may be prevalent among some of our stakeholders. I will ensure that all concerned are kept up to date with regard to the processes and challenges still facing the new See page 14 institution.’

PROFESSOR PETER FRANKS I N T E R I M C A M P U S P R I N C I PA L AT T U R F L O O P ‘The University of Limpopo is in a unique position to observe the process of urbanisation, and also the subtler and more complex processes of the move from tribality to so-called modernity. We are building a unique understanding that urban-based universities simply don’t have. With the merger now a reality, we have the opportunity of celebrating our context here by becoming a flagship institution for the whole of the developing world.’ See page 18

D R A N D I L E D YA S I I N T E R I M C A M P U S P R I N C I PA L AT M E D U N S A ‘We must be prepared to dirty our hands in the effort to uplift the northern parts of the country. Lip service won’t be enough. However, it is of vital importance that we retain the confidence of the health sciences staff. If we do not tread carefully and wisely, we will simply add to the brain drain from the very health care training and services the new University of Limpopo has been established to build up in the north.’ See page 20






coverage of this exciting but complicated development will be found anywhere in the South African media. This depth of coverage is absolutely justified. The merger is big news. It’ll mean an unprecedented expansion of health education facilities – and health services – in Limpopo province. Nobody in the province, nor anyone concerned with the fortunes of education and health care in a democratic South Africa, can afford to miss this issue where all the facts and many of the opinions

L i m p o p o L e a d e r is

surrounding this major move are clearly set out. A particularly pleasing consequence of the merger is that it will

published by the Marketing and Communications Department

bring new readers to L I M P O P O L E A D E R . We accordingly welcome


MEDUNSA campus staff and students – and thousands of alumni scat-

Private Bag X1106 Sovenga 0727

tered all over the country – as partners in a common endeavour. Join us

Limpopo Province

not only as readers, but as contributors as well. Our invitation to these

South Africa

constituencies, as our invitation is to all readers, is to subscribe to a magazine that is already doing much to enhance the public image of

EDITOR: David Robbins

a remarkable institution. Send your cheques to The Editor at the

Tel: (011) 792-9951 or

address mentioned below.


Another point of interest in this autumn issue of L I M P O P O L E A D E R



takes readers into the fascinating world of community genetics and

Gail Robbins Tel: (011) 792-9951 or 082-5721682 EDITORIAL COMMITTEE: Aifheli Gelebe Elizabeth Lubinga DK Mohuba (chairman) Norman Nyazema David Robbins

how groundbreaking Turfloop research is leading to improved protection for thousands of rural families. Or read the remarkable story of the university’s playwright-in-residence, a position made possible since 1998 by the generosity of a major mining house operating in the province. And here’s another reminder to make use of the letters page. It’s been

squeezed out of this issue by the demands of the merger coverage – but

Gail Robbins Robby Sandrock PHOTOGRAPHS: Robby Sandrock, photographs on all pages except the following: Giséle Wulfsohn – South Photographs, photograph on page 22

it will be back. Address your letters (no more than 150 words, please) to The Editor, PO Box 96306, Brixton 2019, or fax them to (011) 792-7140, or e-mail to We look forward to hearing from you.

David Robbins, photographs on pages 4 (right), 7 (2nd, 5th), 11, 13 (right), 17, 28 Trevor Fish, photographs on page 5 (top), 7 (middle), back cover (right) D E S I G N A N D L AY O U T: JAM STREET Design PRINTING: COLORPRESS PRODUCTION M A N A G E M E N T: DGR Writing & Research ARTICLES MAY BE REPRINTED WITH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT ISSN: 1812-5468



NEXT ISSUE The new subsidy framework for higher education is challenging universities to obtain ‘third stream’ income that comes neither from the government subsidy nor from student fees, but from a third range of sources. The University of Limpopo is therefore looking for ways to build new relationships with alumni, the private sector and civil society, as well as fee-for-service relationships with provincial government and big business. Significantly, these new imperatives are encouraging active participation in Limpopo province’s Growth and Development Strategy hammered out at a summit held last October.

IN THIS ISSUE cover picture: A young patient at Mankweng hospital represents a generation which can look forward to a future of improved medical services – thanks to the great LIMPOPO merger

page 1: Meet the Merger VIPs page 12: Professor Tebogo Mokgoro. University of Limpopo Interim Council Chairman page 14: Professor Mahlo Mokgalong. University of Limpopo Interim Vice-Chancellor page 18: Professor Peter Franks. Interim Campus Principal at Turfloop page 20: Dr Andile Dyasi. Interim Campus Principal at MEDUNSA

page 4: The great UNIN/MEDUNSA merger. All the facts regarding the most significant event in the history of higher education in Limpopo province; the history and the rationale behind the merger.

page 8: Who will bring what disciplines to the new merged institution.

page 10: A gradualist approach or an ‘aggressive’ one? In spite of the injunction as articulated in the Government Gazette – to relocate MEDUNSA’s physical and human assets to Limpopo – many people believe it would be a mistake to do so too soon. Hear what some experienced MEDUNSA academics, as well as the Limpopo health authorities have to say.

page 16: The Premier of Limpopo speaks on the Great Limpopo Merger.

page 22: Limpopo leadership in community genetics. One senior health sciences academic at Turfloop looks beyond a likely consequence of the Great Limpopo Merger – the loss of his job – and finds a great deal to be enthusiastic about.

page 27: The drama of being alive in Africa. The performing arts are flourishing at Turfloop, thanks to the presence of the university’s very own dramatist in residence.

page 30: Performing arts outreach.

page 32: Publishing creative writing.

The great Limpopo merger




THE CHANCES ARE THAT IT WILL DO A LOT MORE THAN THAT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION IN GENERAL AT TURFLOOP. Before we attempt an assessment of the effects, however, we need to understand some of the detail of the momentous event itself. The bald fact is this. At the start of the year the University of the North outside Polokwane was officially merged with the Medical University of Southern Africa, situated on the northern edges of Gauteng province, to create a new institution known as the University of Limpopo. The merging process has been protracted and not without difficulties and unhappiness. Many problems remain to be resolved. But the terms of the notice in the Government Gazette (number 23549 of 21 June 2002) are unequivocal. ‘The Ministry of Education should, in consultation with the new institution, assess, investigate and make decisions on the relocation (over the medium to long term) of Medunsa’s programmes and infrastructure to the Northern Province.’ In simplistic terms, then, Limpopo province is in the process of getting its own fully fledged medical school. This is spectacularly good news for a region that has traditionally been under-endowed – at least from a health care point of view. Consider just one statistic: the doctor/population ratio in the old Lebowa homeland (now a part of Limpopo, of course) was at one time 1:27 000, while in certain parts of Gauteng the parallel ratio was less than 1:500. Three cheers, then, for a merger that begins to redress such inequities, and whose intent is clearly in line with the national policy of decentralising South Africa’s intellectual expertise and academic capacity. But the process now begun is far from straightforward. There are cons as well as pros. Those people hoping at any moment to see a line of removal vans bringing north all the high-tech paraphernalia of a medical school and tertiary hospital – not to mention the busloads of academics and medical scientists necessary to staff one – will inevitably be disappointed. Equally, those people hoping that the merger will be ‘on paper’ only, and that the status quo at both the merging institutions will remain undisturbed will be equally so. The reality is that to merge two institutions is a hugely complex process. To imagine that it will not take time – and patience – would be folly. Nevertheless, the implications for South Africa’s most northerly – and most rural – province are enormous. In the pages that follow, some of the detail surrounding the merger is revealed.




The great Limpopo merger

THE RATIONALE AND HISTORY IT’S NO SECRET THAT SOUTH AFRICA BOASTS THE BEST MEDICAL SCHOOLS IN SUBSAHARAN AFRICA. Those at the universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand are internationally renowned; and those more recently established at Pretoria and Free State are in many aspects as respected. But these were traditionally ‘white’ institutions. So the key question, as the second half of the 20th century progressed and apartheid tightened its grip on the country, was where to train black, Indian and coloured doctors and other medical professionals. The first attempt at answering this question resulted in a medical school being established in the late 1940s under the control of the then University of Natal (now the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal). And then, a full 25 years later in 1976, the Medical University of Southern Africa was established to the north of Pretoria. This institution now teaches the full range of medical sciences and specialities, and includes a state-of-the-art dentistry school. It also runs a satellite campus in Polokwane. Meanwhile, The University of the North had also been born out of the preoccupations of apartheid. Established in 1959 as a racially exclusive college, it became by Act of Parliament a




full university ten years later. The university currently operates a School of Health Sciences within its Faculty of Science, Health and Agriculture. The rationale for merging these two institutions has grown out of the major post-1994 preoccupations surrounding higher education in South Africa. Of course, the racial issue has now fallen away. But it was immediately replaced by problems directly related to the application of racial considerations in higher education in the past. Due to the duplication of facilities deemed necessary under apartheid, the post-1994 planners found themselves, if not with too many higher education institutions, at least with too much duplication in what existing institutions were offering. The result was the painful ‘size and shape’ debate that wracked higher education for several years in the late 1990s. It was against this background that numerous mergers were planned. The 21 universities, 15 technikons and 27 teacher training colleges operating at the start of South Africa’s democratic era have subsequently been merged into only 22 tertiary institutions. The new University of Limpopo (comprising the old UNIN and MEDUNSA) is one of these. Another element in the rationale behind the merging

of these two particular institutions is the government’s desire to decentralise higher education, not least medical education. Take a look at these facts. For decades Gauteng has had three full medical schools – at WITS and Pretoria universities and at MEDUNSA. South Africa’s three most northerly provinces, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West, have traditionally had none. It does need to be noted, though, that MEDUNSA has had satellite campuses not only at Polokwane but also at Rustenburg (North West) and at a hospital near Groblersdal (Mpumalanga). The decision to merge MEDUNSA with UNIN, to establish the headquarters of the new institution at Turfloop, and to charge the new institution, in collaboration with the national Minister of Education, with responsibility for investigating ‘the relocation (over the medium to long term) of MEDUNSA’s programmes and infrastructure’ to Limpopo province was made by the National Working Group on mergers in 2002. Since then, MEDUNSA and UNIN have met frequently to thrash out the immensely complex task of merging. To facilitate the process, the institutions last year signed a memorandum of agreement that set out some basic guiding principles, such as: full disclosure on both sides;

joint decision making; equal partnership, stakeholder consultation; and so on. The complexity of the merger is indicated by these task examples from the operational timetable set out in the memorandum: • Harmonise student administrative systems and admissions policies by August 2004 • Harmonise student and staff databases by October 2004 • Harmonise institutional rules, conditions of service etc by October 2004 • Integrate financial administration by November 2004 • Prepare draft of an institutional operating plan by August 2005 • Harmonise senate and senate sub-committees by December 2005. But will the merger mean a fullscale relocation of MEDUNSA’s physical and human assets to Limpopo province? The wording used in the Government Gazette – reference is made to negotiating the relocation of Medunsa’s programmes and infrastructure over the medium to long term – certainly indicates this. Understandably, this is causing some consternation at MEDUNSA. A widespread perception is that the national Department of Education owes everyone an

accurate definition of what is meant by ‘medium’ and ‘long’ term. Senior administrators at MEDUNSA insist that they are definitely not against the merger, but that there are serious reservations about total relocation. This would mean closure of a huge institution – a concept, many say, that is contrary to the terms of reference of the National Working Group that made the merger recommendations in the first place. Indeed, the concept of a multicampus University of Limpopo (one in Polokwane/Turfloop and one in Ga-Rankuwa where MEDUNSA was originally established) has been vigorously punted by MEDUNSA. But before we look at the logistical challenges – and the arguments surrounding them – it will be worthwhile to understand what Limpopo province stands to gain through the merger between Turfloop and one of South Africa’s largest and most productive medical universities.



The great Limpopo merger

WHO’S BRINGING WHAT TO THE MERGER PARTY? THE CHART REPRODUCED ON THIS PAGE PROVIDES SOME IDEA OF WHAT WILL ULTIMATELY BE COMBINED INTO A SINGLE MEDICAL SCHOOL (WITH SUPPORTING SCIENTIFIC DISCIPLINES) THAT WILL HAVE ITS HEADQUARTERS AT TURFLOOP AND POLOKWANE IN LIMPOPO PROVINCE. The following observations and explanations will assist in more fully understanding the information set out below. • The various schools in the UNIN column are not described in full, but show only those subjects and specialities that relate directly to the training of health professionals. • MEDUNSA has a special department of natural sciences that deals with the foundational sciences required by doctors and other health professionals. The medical slant incorporated in the courses offered by this department can without difficulty be included in the science degree courses already on offer at the physical and life science schools at Turfloop.


• Most of the health sciences taught at Turfloop have equivalents or near equivalents in the MEDUNSA repertoire. This will mean amalgamations in many areas. The exceptions are optometry (only at Turfloop) and dentistry (only at MEDUNSA). • It will be seen that the satellite MEDUNSA campus at the Polokwane/Mankweng hospital complex in Limpopo (occupying the right-hand column in the chart) duplicates a fair number of the specialities offered at MEDUNSA. It is important to understand, however, that the satellite departments cannot stand alone. They are catering to fifth and sixth year medical students from MEDUNSA and are currently dependent on their relationship with the teaching status, granted by the Health Professions Council of South Africa, of their various home departments on the MEDUNSA campus.

This diagram, showing MEDUNSA’s new curriculum, provides a graphic representation of how the various sciences and special focus areas fit together into the overarching practice of medicine. The division of subjects into training years shows how knowledge grows upwards from the basic sciences.



U N I N School of Physical & Mineral Sciences Chemistry Physics

M E D U N S A Medical physics

School of Molecular & Life Sciences Biochemistry Biotechnology Microbiology

Medical biology

School of Social Sciences Psychology

Psychology Clinical psychology

S A T E L L I T E Medical physics

Clinical psychology

School of Health Sciences Medical sciences Public health Occupational & Environmental health Health promotion Nursing Pharmacy Optometry Dietetics Human nutrition

Community health Nursing Pharmacology & therapeutics Dentistry

Community health

Human nutrition Allied Health Disciplines Anaesthesiology Anatomy Cardiology Cardio-thoracic surgery Dermatology Diagnostic radiology & imaging Family medicine & PHC General surgery Hand & micro-surgery Intensive care Internal medicine Neurology Neurosurgery Nuclear medicine Obstetrics & gynaecology Occupational therapy Ophthalmology Orthopaedics Otorhinolaryngology Paediatrics & child health Paediatric surgery Physiology Physiotherapy Plastic & reconstructive surgery Anatomical pathology Forensic pathology Chemical pathology Haematological pathology Microbiological pathology Psychiatry Radiography Speech-language pathology & audiology Urology Virology

Allied Health Disciplines Anaesthesiology

Family medicine Forensic medicine General surgery

Internal medicine Neurosurgery Nuclear medicine Obstetrics & gynaecology Oncology Ophthalmology Orthopaedics Ear, nose & throat Paediatrics






The great Limpopo merger



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IN SPITE OF THE INJUNCTION AS ARTICULATED IN THE GOVERNMENT GAZETTE – TO RELOCATE MEDUNSA’S PHYSICAL AND HUMAN ASSETS – MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE TO DO SO TOO SOON. Many people, indeed, place more store on the other Gazette injunction – ‘to assess, investigate and make decisions regarding relocation’ – rather than simply attempting to uproot. If taken seriously, this approach could mean not so much a lock-stockand-barrel kind of relocation as a retention of the major MEDUNSA resources in Gauteng while at the same time steadily increasing the capacity in Limpopo province. The acting Dean of MEDUNSA’s Faculty of Medicine, Professor Herman Joubert, has described what staff at MEDUNSA would envisage as an acceptable way forward. ‘A continuous process of upgrading the Polokwane/ Mankweng satellite,’ he says. ‘The provincial authorities in Limpopo seem to be very supportive of this approach. But we must be clear about one thing. It will require a massive capital investment and a lot of time. Staffing will remain a fundamental problem. If this provincial support can be maintained over the next five to


ten years, then the satellite may well have sufficient resources to do the whole job. But care needs to be exercised. Planning is crucially important. And there must be a real commitment to the multi-campus concept, otherwise there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’ As an example of doing just this, Joubert alluded to MEDUNSA’s denistry facility, ‘the largest and best-equipped in the southern hemisphere,’ that occupies a very specialised building. Joubert suggested that a permanent retention of the original MEDUNSA campus in which these huge infrastructural investments had been made, while at the same time developing a full medical school in Limpopo, would enable the new merged institution (the University of Limpopo) eventually to double its output of doctors and other medical professionals from the current 200-plus per annum. But this long-term gradualist approach to the merger – and particularly the idea of permanent campuses in two different provinces – seems unlikely to be favoured. A factor that militates against such a prospect is the way that medical education in South Africa is funded. It is a peculiarity of medical schools that they are always joint efforts between the

Professor Herman Joubert

national Department of Education which funds higher education institutions directly, and the provincial departments of health which are responsible for the tertiary hospitals necessary for the adequate training of doctors, specialists and other health professionals. This combination of health service and health training, each with its own funding source, brings additional complexity – and additional tools for rationalisation – to this particular merger. The Gauteng Department of Health simply won’t have the resources to support a third medical school in Gauteng, while


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The great Limpopo merger

A GRADUALIST APPROACH OR AN ‘AGGRESSIVE’ ONE? the Limpopo Department of Health and Social Development will obviously be provided with the resources to develop a full teaching hospital in its province. But an obvious short-term objective will surely be the maintenance of graduate output in the health professions that are currently being achieved from both campuses. A decrease would simply exacerbate the national shortages already being experienced in not a few medical and health-related fields, particularly in the deep rural areas. So the central question pertaining to the merger concerns the time it will take to effect the establishment of full facilities in Limpopo. Limpopo’s MEC for Health and Social Development, Charles

Sekoati, agrees that a gradualist approach is sensible, but disagrees that the process could take as long as a decade. ‘We need a plan that is realistic and that protects what already exists. But we wish to be aggressive about fulfilling the national vision of establishing a full medical school here in Limpopo. We do not want to be frustrated by a dragging of heels or an unnecessary prolonging of the status quo. Exactly how long it will take will depend on the progress we make in 2005. But it will have to be less than ten years – very definitely.’ Sekoati’s department has already established a working committee in partnership with its counterpart in Gauteng, and with the national Department of Health. Now this committee, or



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task team, is busy putting budgets to a phased timetable. Although Sekoati will not be drawn on the details, it is widely believed that by the beginning of 2006 (or the latest 2007) the medical school facilities in Limpopo will be ready for the first intake of first-year medical students. At the same time, MEDUNSA will stop taking in first years. This process will continue annually until the Limpopo medical school is catering for the full six years of study. By then, departments will have been built up sufficiently to cope with post-graduate studies in the various specialities as well. That end-point is a mere six or seven years away. ‘We’ve been working with a satellite campus of MEDUNSA at

‘IN 1994 SOUTH AFRICA EMBARKED ON A PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT THAT HAS PROVED TO BE UNPARALLELED IN THE HISTORY OF HUMAN SOCIETIES. The result has been fundamental change in every field. The merger of the old University of the North and MEDUNSA into the University of Limpopo needs to be viewed as a part of this larger picture. The merger represents the government’s intention to reverse the effects and ravages of apartheid and to ensure that our institutions of higher learning are repositioned to deliver on the strategic objectives of South African society – and to play a role in the reconstruction of Africa in terms of the principles and objectives of NEPAD. Indeed, we should all be persuaded to see the merger as responding to the drive to create a better South Africa, a better Africa, and a better world.’ Stirring words from Professor Tebogo Mokgoro, recently appointed chairman of the Interim Council of the newly formed University of Limpopo. Mokgoro is a highly successful consultant in the field of public


the Polokwane/Mankweng hospital complex for the past 12 years,’ says Dr Nellie Manzini, head of the Limpopo Health and Social Development Department. ‘So the idea of a medical school is not a completely new thing for us. It’s a matter of strengthening the satellite until it can stand on its own feet. The governance on the academic side is being taken care of with the formation of the merged University of Limpopo, where a new faculty is to be created. On the hospital and service delivery side, we will simply be adding to the administration that has already been built up in and around the existing hospital complex.’ Nevertheless, there are two constraints to the plan that will demand special attention. The first

MEC Charles Sekoati

Dr Nellie Manzini

administration with major clients in South Africa (including the government) as well as in other African countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda. ‘We’re beginning to see a trend globally,’ Mokgoro says, ‘which indicates that winning nations are no longer those that can demonstrate comparative advantages in respect of natural resources, but increasingly those that have something exceptional to offer in terms of the emerging knowledge economy. Obviously, the merger needs to be seen in this setting.’ Mokgoro (56) was born in Galeshewe in Kimberley and studied at Fort Hare, North West, and at the University of Toledo, Ohio, US. Most of his working life has been spent in the North West province. He was an associate director of policy analysis at the Development Bank before becoming the first DirectorGeneral of the North West province in 1994. He has also taught in the Faculty of Management and Administration at North West University, and in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences of the University of the Western Cape. He is currently an

adjunct professor at the Institute of Government, Fort Hare University. Persuaded to comment more specifically on the task confronting the Interim Council of the University of Limpopo, Mokgoro says: ‘We are committed to ensuring a successful implementation of this merger in terms of government policy. And we also recognise our responsibility to advise government regarding any unintended negative consequences that may become apparent as we undertake full risk management exercises. ‘We are particularly concerned, as we establish a best-practice medical faculty within the University of Limpopo, with three essential criteria. The first is that we ensure the continuity of production of black doctors and black specialists. The second is that there is no disruption in the delivery of health services, especially to second-economy communities. And the third, upon which the first two are significantly contingent, is that all our staff, and particularly the best of our existing teaching staff, are reasonably and adequately protected.’


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The great Limpopo merger

A GRADUALIST APPROACH OR AN ‘AGGRESSIVE’ ONE? is the need for significantly improved physical infrastructure to make the medical school functional. The second, and undoubtedly the more important, relates to adequate academic staffing. Take the question of staffing. MEDUNSA is producing more than 200 fully trained doctors each year, plus a range of other medical professionals like physiotherapists, occupational therapists and so on. The total number of students is just under 4 000, including post-graduates. With a student/academic-teacher ratio of 8/9:1 (more or less the level required by the Health Professions Council of South Africa), an academic staff of around 400 will have to be found to run the new medical school in

Limpopo. How to entice this number of top health scientists to one of South Africa’s smaller provincial capitals becomes a burning concern. The Scarce Skills and Rural Allowances arrangement, introduced throughout the country in 2003/4 to encourage the retention of health professionals in the more rural provinces, has consumed over R50-million in Limpopo province alone, even though the budget had been set at R32-million. This arrangement would certainly need to be enlarged to encourage staff into the new Limpopo medical school. It is interesting, in this matter of adequate staffing, to glance at the origins of MEDUNSA itself. If the apartheid planners had placed the new ‘black’ institution



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in one of the homelands, staffing it – particularly then in the middle seventies – would have been an impossible task. As it was, they sited it on the northern edges of greater Pretoria, thus being able to offer big-city amenities to the academics who applied for posts. Dr John McCutcheon, CEO of Mankweng Hospital which borders onto the Turfloop campus and which forms part of Polokwane’s tertiary hospital complex, admits: ‘It’s never going to be easy to develop a full-scale medical school anywhere other than in a major urban centre. Yes, of course, the problem is staff. People need to be satisfied with schooling and other amenities before they decide to relocate. But Polokwane is growing fast. We already have very well-

THE NEED TO DECENTRALISE THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES OF SOUTH AFRICA LOOMS LARGE IN THE THINKING OF PROFESSOR MAHLO MOKGALONG, INTERIM VICE-CHANCELLOR OF THE NEWLY CREATED UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO. ‘With your support,’ he told students at the beginning of the 2005 academic year, ‘we can make the new university much more than the sum of its two parts.’ Indeed, it is his avowed dream to build a ‘premier African university’ right here, in Limpopo, his home province. Mokgalong (now 51) was born in a deep rural area of the Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo). He went to school close to his home, and after matriculating he enrolled for a science degree, majoring in botany and zoology, at the then University of the North. Honours and Master’s degrees in zoology followed at the same university. As part of his doctoral research, Mokgalong twice attended the Commonwealth Institute of Parasitology in London. His doctoral thesis dealt with gastrointestinal worms in certain varieties of fish found in Limpopo province. Mokgalong’s entire academic career has been at


qualified specialists from Poland and Russia – and elsewhere in South Africa of course – working in our hospitals here.’ MEC Sekoati and Dr Manzini are even more upbeat. ‘I think a great many people will come to Polokwane and be pleasantly surprised,’ they assert. ‘Yes, there will be reluctance from some MEDUNSA academics to relocate. This is natural. But history doesn’t allow a vacuum. We’re already marketing abroad – and in South Africa. And those who will be able to come from MEDUNSA will definitely be welcomed here. The career opportunities are going to be plentiful and challenging.’ Now let’s look at the question of physical infrastructure. A tertiary hospital complex already exists in Limpopo,

comprising the Polokwane Hospital and Mankweng Hospital. The combined capacity of both is 960 beds (480 each), and both are already used as the base for MEDUNSA’s satellite campus in Limpopo province. The specialist services are divided as follows: • at Mankweng is ophthalmology, paediatrics, psychology, obstetrics and gynaecology; • at Polokwane is internal medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat, and pathology. There is also, at Polokwane Hospital, a state-of-the-art oncology unit, one of the best equipped and most modern in the CONTINUES ON PAGE 17

Turfloop. He began as a research assistant in the Zoology department in 1997, finally reaching the level of Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics 20 years later. By 2001 he had progressed to the position of full Dean, and then became the Executive Dean of the reorganised Faculty of Science, Health and Agriculture. In 2003 he was appointed Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of the North. The appointment of someone with this level of commitment to Limpopo province to the position of Interim Vice-Chancellor of the new merged University of Limpopo comes as no surprise. ‘The new university is situated in a unique location in southern Africa,’ he says. ‘I have no doubt that by bolstering the strength of our resources in our own province we will be able to play a significant role in the SADC region as a whole.’ Mokgalong expressed gratitude to the various task teams and committees that had contributed to the merger process so far. ‘The people involved will be able to look back with pride on the pioneering role they have played in the establishment of the University

Dr John McCutcheon

of Limpopo. Its genesis is our joint contribution towards the transformation of tertiary education in South Africa. We are not only a part of this history; we are the makers of it. ‘I am keenly aware of the anxieties and uncertainties that may be prevalent among some of our stakeholders. As Interim Vice-Chancellor, I will ensure that all concerned are kept up to date with regard to the processes and challenges still facing the new institution.’ Mokgalong has received several research and travel awards from South African and international bodies, including the Senior W O Neits Phalarae Parasitologiae for his PhD thesis. He is a member of the Parasitological Society of South Africa, the South African Association of Science and Technology Centres, and the South African Council of Natural Scientific Professions.


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THE PREMIER OF LIMPOPO PROVINCE, SELLO MOLOTO, SAYS THAT THE MERGER BETWEEN THE UNIVERSITY OF THE NORTH AND MEDUNSA IS LONG OVERDUE. ‘If it hadn’t been for apartheid, South Africa’s most northerly province would have had a full medical school a long time ago.’ Moloto referred to the shortage of doctors – and health professionals generally – in Limpopo, pointing out that the bulk of MEDUNSA students had historically come from the regions now known as the North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. ‘The new medical school could not have gone anywhere else but to Limpopo, the most northerly of the three. That’s the rationale behind the merger of the two universities.’ He said that a lot of the infrastructure and intellectual capital necessary to establish the medical school already existed. There was a MEDUNSA satellite



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campus in Polokwane; and the provincial authorities had the will to underpin its rapid development. ‘It makes sense to train doctors locally,’ he says, ‘because the tendency is for health professionals to stay near the locality in which they were trained. For our people studying at the medical school in Durban, the tendency was for a percentage of them to stay in Durban. It is the same with people studying at MEDUNSA. Too many of them stay and practise in Gauteng.’ Moloto is young to be a provincial premier. He turned 40 last August. He was born at Bakenberg to the west of Mokopane (Potgietersrust). After matriculating from the high school in Bakenberg, he taught as a private teacher for a year before entering the University of the North in 1985. He took a four-year pharmacy course, did his internship at Mokopane Hospital, and then entered South Africa’s first democratic parliament in 1994. He became Limpopo Premier after last year’s general and provincial elections. Everything Moloto says about the merger indicates that he firmly believes it to be the right prescription for the province that he leads. It’s right for higher education. And it’s particularly right for medical training and the health services generally. ‘We will become one of the main health centres for the whole

region,’ he says. ‘Already we have a significant overflow of patients from neighbouring countries. This will increase. We need the additional facilities envisaged. We will also be in a position to provide appropriately trained personnel into the neighbouring countries because of our broad rural base which will inevitably reflect in the emphasis of the training we’ll offer. ‘Of course, our big need is for suitable academics. There are many vacancies for specialists in our tertiary complex. Suitably qualified people will be made welcome. There’s definitely work and opportunities waiting for them.’ Addressing MEDUNSA personnel directly, Moloto declares that Limpopo would be able to provide excellent job security. ‘And for academics in private practice,’ he adds, ‘let me say this: Limpopo probably offers as much scope as the Gauteng speciality markets. And the field here is wide open.’ Another attraction, he says, is that Limpopo is an exceptionally peaceful province where crime is low and general security excellent. It is also the fastest growing province economically. And the amenities in Polokwane are excellent. ‘In fact,’ he concluded, ‘we’re very competitive with Gauteng. We have Afrikaans and English schools as well as reputable private establishments.’

The great Limpopo merger


Frengie Dlomo

Radiology/Oncology Unit at Polokwane Hospital

The great Limpopo merger

A GRADUALIST APPROACH OR AN ‘AGGRESSIVE’ ONE? country. This unit has delivered services to thousands of cancer sufferers from Limpopo’s rural areas. Many of these patients, before the unit’s installation, would simply have gone without any treatment at all. The actual physical infrastructure at both hospitals is adequate. At Mankweng, some lecture facilities already exist. ‘In fact,’ says Dr McCutcheon, ‘Mankweng was originally built by the old ‘homeland’ government of Lebowa to house a medical school. However, it will still be necessary to make significant capital investments here. Who will pay, and how much money is actually necessary? It’s too early to tell.’ Apart from the upgrading and equipping of the two hospitals to

cater to a full medical school, an actual home for the new facility – which will become a full faculty at the new University of Limpopo – needs to be contemplated. The scattered accommodation for the current School of Health Sciences at Turfloop will definitely not do. Although the various officials and university authorities aren’t saying exactly, it seems likely that a brand new Medical School could be built on vacant land close to the Edupark complex on the eastern edge of the provincial capital, Polokwane. No one’s saying what all these improvements and additions will cost, but there are whispers that a sum of around R3-billion has already been earmarked from central government coffers. There will be very few people in

Limpopo province – or in the national departments of Health or Education – who will not believe that the investment will be worth every cent. McCutcheon sums up the general mood when he says: ‘From an academic point of view, we in the health services here are highly interested spectators. Obviously, our view is that the merger should happen as soon as possible, and that it should be successful. The establishment of a medical school in Limpopo will merely be a consummation of what’s been on everyone’s minds for a long time.’ The list of advantages grows longer as more people begin to voice their opinions: • The better the service in Limpopo, the fewer patients CONTINUES ON PAGE 20



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PROFESSOR PETER FRANKS, UNTIL RECENTLY THE EXECUTIVE DEAN OF THE FACULTY OF MANAGEMENT SCIENCES AND LAW AT THE UNIVERSITY OF THE NORTH, HAS BEEN APPOINTED INTERIM CAMPUS PRINCIPAL AT THE TURFLOOP CAMPUS UNDER THE MANAGERIAL ARRANGEMENTS SURROUNDING THE NEWLY FORMED UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO. ‘The entire university family carries the responsibility for inventing the University of Limpopo,’ Franks says. ‘The state has provided the legal and policy framework. It is now up to us all – academics, students, parents, alumni, funders, administrators and management – to breathe genuine life into what exists at the moment as a potentiality. This is an opportunity and challenge of awesome dimensions. But the reality is that together we can make the University of Limpopo the flagship institution that President Thabo Mbeki has envisioned.’ Franks has studied and worked in South Africa, the United States and Canada. He came to the University of the North in 1992 to take up the position of Senior

Mankweng hospital

Professor in the Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology. ‘I had been working with the HSRC (as Divisional Manager for Environmental Management in the Group for Human Resources) when I was persuaded to come to Turfloop by Prof Manganyi. I saw the move immediately as an opportunity to help to build a strong and useful university.’ Now the opportunity is to build a much bigger – and an even stronger – institution. ‘The University of Limpopo is in a unique position to observe the process of urbanisation, and also the subtler and more complex processes of the move from tribality to so-called modernity. We are building a unique understanding that urban-based universities simply don’t have. With the merger now a reality, we have the opportunity of celebrating our context here by becoming a flagship institution for the whole of the developing world.’ Johannesburg-born Franks did his undergraduate training (in political science and psychology) at the University of the Witwatersrand before moving to the

State University of New York at Stony Brook for his PhD degree. He also lectured at the Stony Brook, as well as at Concordia University in Montreal and Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, before returning to South Africa in 1982. Professor Franks has been influential in the establishment of the Turfloop Graduate School of Leadership, as well as the Development and Facilitation Training Institute. From 1997 to 2005, he was the convenor for the annual South African Public Management Workshop, which is now the South African Management Conversation. In addressing the fresh intake of students at the Turfloop campus at the start of the 2005 academic year, Franks may well have begun to lay the foundations of the spirit and intent of the new University of Limpopo when he said: ‘May your university years prepare you for the payback in your career, but even more importantly use it to grow and develop, thereby enriching your life in its totality. As the United Negro College Fund advertises in the United States, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”’


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The great Limpopo merger

A GRADUALIST APPROACH OR AN ‘AGGRESSIVE’ ONE? will need to be transferred to Gauteng. This is obviously good for the patients. And the trend is already towards fewer out-of-province referrals. • Locally trained medical professionals tend to stay in the region in which they have been trained. Although the provincial Health Department’s Dr Manzini is quick to add that the intention is not to isolate future Limpopo medical students. ‘We already spend a fair sum annually on exchange student programmes and out-ofprovince training programmes to ensure that our people are exposed to as wide an experience as possible.’ • Various forms of post-graduate training for health professionals across the SADC

region will inevitably become available. The attractions for these professionals of attending a facility in a province where almost 90% of the population is still living in rural conditions must be obvious. • There is an enormous need for the training and development of staff for the lower levels within the total health service, and the new medical school will provide hands-on assistance as well as in-service training to strengthen PHC services, as well as those delivered at district and secondary levels. But the ultimate success of all these pluses will depend on the willingness of high-quality medical

A Merger VIP A N D I L E D YA S I : I N T E R I M P R I N C I PA L AT M E D U N S A C A M P U S


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academics to come to Polokwane. ‘We want to make our hospitals as inviting as we can,’ says McCutcheon. ‘We want medical professionals to be able to develop their careers here, and we want to stress the opportunities for research.’ It is obvious that the potential exists to establish a medical school in deeply rural Limpopo that could become a flagship in the entire developing world. The province wants and needs it. Without doubt, the Limpopo health services need it. The academic environment already exists, although this environment will have to be enlarged both at the two hospitals and at the university. And the desire for a fairer balance of resources and opportunities, for patients and

DR ANDILE DYASI, INTERIM PRINCIPAL AT THE MEDUNSA CAMPUS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LIMPOPO, SAYS IT IS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE THAT STAFF DO NOT INADVERTENTLY SEND OUT THE MESSAGE THAT THEY ARE NOT SUPPORTIVE OF THE MERGER. ‘Our greatest challenge,’ he declares, ‘is to show that we are prepared to dirty our hands in the effort to uplift the northern parts of the country. Lip service won’t be enough. We must show solid commitment to get the health sciences installed and fully functional in Limpopo.’ However, having said that, Dyasi insists that the merger process must encourage the retention of the confidence of the health sciences staff. ‘If they see no realistic future for themselves, they will abandon the institution. If we do not tread carefully and wisely, we will simply add to the brain drain from the very health training and services the new University of Limpopo has been established to build up.’ Dyasi smiles as he admits that his new job will pose many challenges. The MEDUNSA campus staff


students alike, between city and countryside demands it. A final question remains. What is ultimately to happen to the impressive infrastructure that has housed MEDUNSA since its inception in 1976? The most honest answer seems to be that nobody knows yet. So, in the meantime, it’s business as usual at Ga-Rankuwa – with MEDUNSA now a campus of the University of Limpopo. ‘In the coming months,’ says Professor Mahlo Mokgalong, Interim Vice-Chancellor of the new University of Limpopo, ‘the key focus area will be to develop a common understanding [between the two old universities] of our vision of the implementation of the merger.’

are a major concern, but he takes reassurance from the approachability and experience of Interim ViceChancellor Professor Mahlo Mokgalong. ‘Yes, the job will be extremely challenging – and also exciting,’ he says. ‘Times have changed and events are carrying us forward.’ Dyasi was born in the Eastern Cape. After matriculating from St John’s College in Umtata, he enrolled at the University of Fort Hare where he gained a BSc degree majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. Further degrees followed from American universities: a chemistry Master’s from Central Washington University and a doctorate in higher education policy studies from the University of Kentucky. He joined the staff of MEDUNSA in 1993, serving as an executive assistant to the Vice-Chancellor and then taking over the responsibilities of Merger Manager as the merger process got under way. Dyasi also has considerable experience of management in the private sector. Strategic management abilities will certainly be needed to cope with the complexities of the merger.

‘It has become apparent to many of us involved in the merger that one of the critical issues is the relationship between health and education. Let me explain. When one talks about the development of a medical school, both these sectors are involved, and funding support emanates from both departments. In practice, this means that a senior medical academic is funded by the Department of Health which in turn means that the academic has a serious commitment to health service delivery as well as to teaching. There needs to be a great deal more dialogue between the departments of Health at the provincial level and the Department of Education at the national level. Otherwise, if we try to move academics too hastily, we’ll leave unacceptable holes in service delivery in the province from which we’ve moved them.’ These challenges notwithstanding, Dyasi agrees emphatically that the government ‘has correctly identified the need for a full medical school – with adequate physical infrastructure – in Limpopo province.’


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Health sciences



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THERE’S ONE HIGHLY QUALIFIED MAN EMBROILED IN THE GREAT LIMPOPO MERGER WHO WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY LOSE HIS JOB. His name is Professor Philip Venter and he’s the current Director of the School of Health Sciences at the Turfloop campus of the new University of Limpopo. The merger will see the creation of a new faculty (of health sciences or medicine) into which his school will be merged. There’ll be an executive dean for the faculty, deans for at least four faculty schools, as well as department heads, in the new university configuration. But the current director’s post will fall away. Surprisingly, though, Professor Venter (now 57) is highly enthusiastic about the merger. Indeed, he seems delighted by his own fate as well. ‘I can’t tell you how keen I am for the merger to go ahead,’ he says. What are his reasons? ‘Since my time at the University of the North began – in 1989 – I have got to know the rural areas pretty well,’ Venter replies. ‘I’ve seen the rural hospitals, the clinics, the health care structures generally. A lot of what I’ve seen is simply not


meeting the needs of the people out there – and there’s not been a great deal of improvement over the past ten years. It’s obvious that improvements must be made at every level, but most particularly at the tertiary level. Those specialised skills should then filter down to every level. ‘Before the merger, there has been some progress on the tertiary level, but it’s been insufficient to meet the needs of these disadvantaged rural communities. The thing about tertiary health care is that you can’t transport it to the people. Neither can you effectively take the people to the tertiary facility. In practice it just doesn’t work.’ As an example of this difficulty, Venter cites the recently established Oncology Unit at the Polokwane Hospital where thousands of cancer sufferers from Limpopo province are now being treated closer to home rather than being referred to Pretoria for appropriate care. ‘You have to establish the facilities and services among the people who need them. This is what the merger will hopefully achieve. And this is why I’m enthusiastic.’ But what about the probable loss of position and status? Venter laughs. ‘Yes, I suppose

Professor Philip Venter: ‘The big opportunity is to develop one of the finest rurally based medical schools in the whole of the developing world.’ I’m almost in a similar situation to many at MEDUNSA. But I also recognise that I’m in a situation that is bigger than me, the individual. The merger must go on – for the good of the combined institution, and for the good of millions of rural people in Limpopo province and beyond. Don’t people realise the opportunities that are presenting now? There’s this chance to move and apply First World technology and scientific expertise into a developing world situation. The big opportunity is to develop one of the finest rurally based medical schools in the whole of the developing world. Surely that must excite most people involved in the merger? ‘Don’t worry about my job,’ Venter adds. ‘In any case, I’m a geneticist, and I can see opportunities in this direction popping up all over the place to establish genetics as part of primary health care accessible to even the most disadvantaged rural communities.’ It’s well worth following this geneticist’s career to catch a glimpse of what Venter is hoping


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Health sciences

ALL THIS – AND GENETICS TOO to bring to the development of what he envisages as ‘one of the finest medical schools in the developing world.’ He was born in Bloemfontein in 1947, the son of a railway worker who definitely lived on the wrong side of the tracks. He grew up among Afrikaners widely known as ‘poor whites’. At his primary school, Noordskool, there were no school uniforms, and many learners out of necessity went barefoot. Nevertheless, Venter excelled in class, and he recalls that his introduction to genetics came in Std 9 when a page or two of his biology textbook was devoted to Gregor Mendel, the 19th century Austrian monk and mathematician whose experiments with garden peas established the basis of our knowledge of genetic inheritance. ‘Most of my classmates struggled with Mendel’s theory,’ Venter recalls, ‘but for me it seemed so clear. I suppose you can say I was enchanted by the logic, and from then on I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was hooked.’ From Std 9 Venter worked in a gents outfitters during weekends and holidays. There he met a student doing an honours degree in genetics. He took Venter to the local university (Free State) where in due course Venter began a BSc, majoring in genetics and zoology. ‘There was no such thing, in South Africa in the 1960s, as human genetics,’ he


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explains, ‘so I had to do the genetics courses in the Faculty of Agriculture to get at the subject.’ During every weekend and every holiday Venter worked at the gents outfitters to pay for his education. He graduated in 1969, and found himself a job as an entomologist at the Department of Agriculture in Bloemfontein. But it was a position he never took up. ‘One of my genetics lecturers at the university had made a huge impression on me. He told me about a new cyto-genetics laboratory that had been opened at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town. He brought application forms so I could apply for a position. I got the job. The result is that I was one of the first six students in South Africa to graduate, in 1972, with a BSc Honours degree in Human Genetics through the University of Stellenbosch. My Master’s followed in 1978 at the same university.’ Venter then moved to Pretoria, to the national Department of Health where he took up the position of Assistant Director of the human genetics division. As part of his new responsibilities he became intimately involved in newly developed technology for the prenatal diagnosis of genetic defects. This direction led to his doctorate in which he did pioneering work on the genetic causes of conditions that previously had simply been labelled mental retardation, the

patients being institutionalised for life. He ended up conducting cutting-edge research into the Martin-Bell or Fra-X syndrome for which he was awarded his doctorate from the University of Free State. During the course of this work, Venter went abroad no fewer than ten times to present papers at international conferences. But with the completion of his doctorate, he felt the time had come to move on. He was offered three jobs, finally choosing the University of the North where he took up the position of head of the then (in 1989) Department of Medical Sciences. Strangely, genetics wasn’t one of the courses offered in the department, but it didn’t take Venter long to find his way back into his first and most abiding scientific interest. ‘When I first arrived at Turfloop I registered a simple departmental research project based in Mankweng Hospital just across the road from the university campus. This was the start of our community genetics initiative. One nurse was allocated to me, and together we looked at all newborn babies at Mankweng. We began by examining them, looking for strange appearance and strange behaviour, and later we started taking blood samples, X-rays and photographs, and doing different diagnostic tests. ‘We based our approach,’ Venter says, ‘on the understanding that a genetically

handicapped child means a handicapped family. The parents end up blaming themselves, or each other, or witchcraft for their child’s defect. People must be provided with information and understanding to cope with the problem.’ With the support and assistance of many nurses, as well as colleagues from the University of Pretoria, the community genetics initiative developed steadily. Venter organised a weekly genetics counselling clinic at Mankweng Hospital with a paediatrician, a genetics nurse and himself dealing with the parents of disabled children. Difficult cases were referred to a panel of clinical geneticists from as far afield as Cape Town, who were persuaded to come to Mankweng every three months. At the same time, open meetings were held where information was disseminated into the communities via affected parents and interested nurses. ‘The whole initiative really took off,’ says Venter, ‘and we soon realised that an important way forward was to invest in the nurses. A one-day genetics

awareness course was eventually attended by more than 3 000 nurses in the province. Then we decided to identify nurses to attend a two-week in-service training course in clinical genetics. The nurses who underwent this training were better informed and equipped than the vast majority of doctors operating in the province at that time.’ It was not long before other hospitals were asking for a service – and the training – similar to that which had begun in Mankweng. Finally, the initiative was operating in ten different rural hospitals, and Venter ended up with more than 80 000 data records for newborn children all over the province. Venter recalls that ‘by 1994/5 we had checked 8 000 babies at Mankweng Hospital alone, and the conclusions were inescapable: congenital defects are higher in poor rural communities in Africa than the national and international averages would suggest.’ The findings were published in 1995 in the South African Medical Journal and rated the

second best publication for that year. It was the first scientific paper to probe these realities. And it caused an uproar in certain sectors of the medical community. People said Venter and his team couldn’t count. People said the research was misleading. But the main finding – that congenital anomalies may affect nearly 85 children per 1 000 by age five – has never been scientifically refuted. In this way, Venter and his team of nurses and clinical geneticists had uncovered a bruising rural reality. Furthermore, the evidence was that prenatal and simple neonatal screening (see box) could dramatically reduce the incidence of congenital/genetic defects even in the most remote rural areas. Venter’s work in this field led to invitations to at least ten international congresses at which the data were presented. He was also awarded the prestigious Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Travel Award in 1997. The latest development for Venter is that he’s just accepted a part-time honorary appointment from the provincial health


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Health sciences

ALL THIS – AND GENETICS TOO authorities in Limpopo to head up a genetics counselling unit to oversee the work being undertaken in the province. Also of huge significance is the new strategy coming from the national Department of Health to establish full human genetics departments at medical schools in five provinces – and the new medical school at the University of Limpopo is one of them. So the work that Venter will be doing for the province is actually in preparation for the development of a fully fledged Department of Human Genetics at the new University of Limpopo. No wonder he’s so enthusiastic about losing his current job. ‘When I think what this could mean for this province, I feel absolutely delighted. For the first time in Africa we’re checking babies here in Limpopo for inborn but treatable errors of metabolism. I hope that I can in some way remain involved. This would absolutely round off my life. It would be fantastic.’ With commitment like this it is inconceivable that the dream of developing one of the finest rurally based medical schools in the developing world will not become a reality.


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AN AFRICAN FIRST IN LIMPOPO PROVINCE. This poster in hospitals all over the province announces boldly: ‘A simple drop of blood could save your baby’s life’. It’s a campaign – and a research project – designed to bring hi-tech neonatal testing and treatment within reach of millions of rural parents in Limpopo province. Here’s how it works. The infant has a drop of blood taken from its heel with simple disposable equipment. The blood will then be tested (at the University of the North West, Potchefstroom campus, Free State) for several harmful genetic diseases, most of which show no symptoms until later in life when the disease is usually too established to treat. The treatment in many such cases could be as simple as a special milk and vitamins diet to prevent mental retardation or even the death of such a child. Record-keeping will allow a follow-up service, and will show the efficacy of the treatment as well as the reach of the blood-testing campaign.

Performing arts

THE DRAMA OF BEING ALIVE IN AFRICA Thanks to funding from De Beers, the University of Limpopo has its very own dramatist-in-residence. He arrived in March 1998, charged with responsibility for establishing a performing arts programme at Turfloop. He’s done excellent things. But for real-life drama of an extraordinary order, listen first to his personal story ...

John Ruganda


PROFESSOR JOHN RUGANDA HAS WRITTEN MORE THAN 30 PLAYS AND PRODUCED MOST OF THEM HIMSELF. Eight have been published, and three are currently school textbooks in East Africa. It’s where he comes from. To be exact, from a small town in southern Uganda named Kitumba, near Fort Portal, the capital town of Tooro kingdom. He grew up there among the lavish green hills of Africa’s heart, harbouring an intense creativity and a broadening cultural ambition. He became a playwright while still in Grade 10 where he produced The State of Zimba which dramatized the struggle between the colonial government and the monarchy in preindependent Uganda. Some of his other published plays include The Burdens, The Floods, Black Mamba, Echoes of Silence, and Shreds of Tenderness. He also has numerous African narratives, including Igereka and other Narratives, and Narratives from the North which has just been published. His collection of poems, Barricades of Paper Houses, is coming out early this year. Ruganda has also published a book of literary criticism: Telling the Truth Laughingly: The Politics of Francis Imbuga’s Drama. ‘All the deepest influences were from my mother,’ Ruganda

says. ‘She used to tell us many traditional stories. She comes from one of the privileged Ugandan families, and she is – even at the age of ninety+ – steeped in the traditions and history of the Tooro people of Uganda.’ Ruganda rounded off his secondary schooling with two years at Ntare High School where he came under the influence of dedicated teachers – one a Ugandan, the other a Catholic Brother from Canada. Both encouraged him to write, and he began to produce poetry, in English and in his home language Rutooro, while still at school. ‘By the time I got to university I’d already written a few things. I was also producing a weekly programme for Radio Uganda where I reviewed books in Rutooro. We also aired our creative writing material on this radio. So in some ways I was ready for the university experience.’ Ruganda began his academic career at Makerere University in Kampala in 1964, shortly after Uganda gained its independence. Kampala, the capital, and particularly the famous university, were bursting with creative energy and high hopes for the future. Intellectual and creative activities were intense and varied. ‘There were many opportunities and I was involved


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Performing arts


Southern Uganda

Kampala, capital of Uganda


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in a great deal,’ Ruganda recalls. ‘Of course, I was writing. There was also music and singing, writing and staging plays at the Uganda National Theatre. I was a bandmaster and president of the Glee Club and before long we were recording songs on Radio Uganda. At Makerere we had exciting teachers who provoked me creatively and provided me with constant encouragement. We started the Kampala Writers’ Club. We would meet once a month for readings and criticism. We began a literary magazine called Penpoint of which I became editor. After graduation (a BA Honours), I was grabbed by Oxford University Press as their representative in Uganda. At the same time, I was appointed by Makarere as their senior resident writer. I took over from VS Naipaul. It was after his spell there that he wrote A Bend in the River. He was a very difficult but brutally honest man. He would tear our writing to pieces. Very few of us survived that encounter. He meant well. But generally life was wonderful, extremely stimulating. I had just turned 30 and my career seemed to be taking shape around me. ‘And then – boom! – Idi Amin arrives.’ The impact of the coup d’etat and the brutalities that followed are difficult to overestimate. From

being one of the richest and most exciting countries in Africa, Uganda tumbled into a nightmare of suppression and economic and democratic collapse. Ruganda himself says that the Amin regime smashed the spirit out of Uganda. ‘People became aware of what they had lost. But it was safer to complain than to do anything about it.’ During this time, Ruganda had been closely involved with the Makerere Free Travelling Theatre, a university-based drama company that travelled extensively in Uganda, putting on plays in English and in various Ugandan languages wherever they could find a venue. They had also toured in Kenya. But almost immediately they came under suspicion by the new regime. ‘I was accused of using theatre to undermine the state,’ Ruganda recalls. ‘Falsely, I must add. Unbeknown to us, soldiers were following us as we travelled. They thought we were doing propaganda for Milton Obote (the leader that Amin had ousted in his coup) to destabilise the country. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that the rector of the university was a well-known friend of Obote. ‘Finally, on our way back to Kampala after the tour we were stopped 10 km from the city. It was me, the dramatist, they were

Makarere University, Kampala

after,’ Ruganda continues with a dry smile. ‘I was searched, questioned. Then they took me to security police headquarters at Nakasero. In the long run they released me, but they were not convinced. There were cars parked outside my gate at all hours. These were the days when people had begun to disappear, even prominent people, and many of my friends advised me to leave. So I left. I left everything behind. I went by road to Kenya, without any luggage, just with the clothes on my body.’ Impossible to tell, through the guarded expression and slightly amused eyes, what these experiences had meant to the creative writer, what blockages had been caused, what inspirations offered. What he provides on the surface is a story of quick recovery, of working for a time producing plays for Kenyan television, writing and producing other broadcast material, and then joining the staff of the department of literature at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. In 1983 he went to the University of New Brunswick in

Canada to do his Master’s and doctoral degrees. He returned to Africa and took a teaching post at Moi University in Western Kenya. By the early 1990s he had moved to the university in Swaziland. He worked there for several years before finding his way to Limpopo province. ‘I love my job because it also affords me an opportunity to share my experience as a teacher and a playwright with students and artists from the community,’ he says. Nevertheless, Ruganda has established two performing arts modules that students can take, one in acting, the other in writing for the stage (and radio, TV and film). He’s also established a significant outreach programme, runs an annual performing arts festival, and publishes an annual journal that collects together the best of creative writing from the Limpopo and beyond. Is there any time for his own writing? Ruganda is non-committal about such private matters. One thing is certain though: Uganda’s loss is Limpopo’s great gain.


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Performing arts

ON OUTREACH AND FESTIVALS DRAMATIST-IN-RESIDENCE AND PERFORMING ARTS LECTURER PROFESSOR JOHN RUGANDA SAYS THAT SINCE JULY LAST YEAR, TEN REGIONS HAVE BEEN VISITED WITH THE AIM OF NURTURING LOCAL TALENT TO CREATE ARTISTS WHO WILL BE ACTIVE AND SELF-EMPLOYED IN THE PERFORMING ARTS FIELD. Mini-festivals have been organized in the areas of Sekhukhune, Tzaneen, Bolobedu, Mankweng, Mmotong and Seshego. These areas are, according to Ruganda, teeming with potential – people who in his view can make it in the arts, specifically stage drama, radio, television and film, as well as writing short stories and poetry. ‘We need people who can reflect the reality of life through performing arts and help society to learn about pertinent issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty and the beauty of Africa, among others,’ Ruganda says. As part of the drive to nurture local talent, drama groups from the various communities were invited to the 6th African Heritage Week Arts and Cultural Festival from the 20th to 24th September at Turfloop. Prominent actress and actor of Generations fame, Rosie Motene and Fana Mokoena, gave



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workshops and adjudicated to choose the best performers. Over 120 groups and individuals participated, including cultural and religious drama groups, school groups, as well as dance, theatrical and youth groups from many parts of Limpopo province. For example, there were 40 groups from the Sekhukhune region alone, and 12 from Tzaneen. On arriving at Turfloop, Ruganda immediately organized a workshop for the African Heritage Week (Herifest) in close collaboration with Professor Ezekiel Mphahlele and Professor Zakes Mda, both well-known South African writers. He has held a Herifest every year since then. But his outreach programme hasn’t ended with last year’s festival. The two best productions will be workshopped on campus and will then tour the province in 2005. The purpose of this exercise, says Ruganda, is to encourage artists throughout Limpopo – and to promote the growth of regional festivals. ‘I will die a happy man if I am able to produce artists who will be self-reliant, and who can establish their own theatre groups and employ people in the community,’ notes Ruganda. ‘But theatrical activity should not be


there only to employ, but as importantly to reflect the inner realities of our experience of being African.’ So far his work has not been in vain. His performing arts courses have helped to produce such nationally recognised artists as Khutso Mabela, Hope Amongwe and Mpho Ramaano. ‘I love drama,’ Ruganda explains, ‘because it expresses the pulse of life. It depicts human beings in action, their strengths and weaknesses, even their propensity for malice, and how they sometimes use good offices to mete out malice to fellow human beings.’

Both writers are second year Media Studies students at the University of Limpopo

Creative writing



WORDS AND THEIR EXPERT USE LIE AT THE HEART OF THE DRAMATIC TRADITION. This truism has underscored the long interest in publishing expressed by Professor John Ruganda, Turfloop’s dramatist-in-residence and performing arts lecturer. During his stay in Swaziland in the early and middle 1990s, he ran his own publishing house, the Ruswanda Publishing Bureau. And he wasn’t slow to follow a similar course at the University of the North. In 1999, hardly a year after his arrival, Ruganda edited the first issue of TurfWRITE: a Journal of Creative Writing. Volume Five was published in December last year. These full-blown literary magazines contain nearly 200 pages each of prose, poetry, and play texts, as well as book and play reviews and articles on aspects of drama and theatre in the African context. ‘There’s enough material being generated these days to do at least two issues a year,’ Ruganda says. ‘What is needed is funding.’ Each edition bears the following acknowledgement: ‘TurfWRITE gratefully acknowledges the De Beers Fund for kindly funding the post of the dramatist-inresidence ... the journal is equally grateful to the office of the Acting Vice Chancellor ... for sponsoring the publication of this volume.’ Ruganda has also succeeded in finding additional funding for the publication of a selection of the best TurfWRITE offerings over the past five years. The title of this book is Prose Narratives from the North, and is a must for everyone who is serious about living in Limpopo province. If you want copies of TurfWRITE 5 or Prose Narratives from the North, send a stamped, addressed A5 envelope to Professor John Ruganda, Dramatist-in-Residence, University of Limpopo, Private Bag X1106, Sovenga 0727. Ruganda would also like to hear from you if Limpopo writers would like to submit a manuscript for consideration for future editions of TurfWRITE. Perhaps the best approach would be to attend the monthly Talent Show Nights held in Turfloop’s performing arts centre. ‘These occasions are open to everyone,’ he says. ‘The idea is to give artists and writers a chance to perform or read their work and to get audience comment. The Talent Show Nights are always packed out.’ Needless to say, donations to go towards Ruganda’s publishing endeavours will be welcomed. Why not give him a call on (015) 268-3544 or 2838, or e-mail him on


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