Centenary of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences

Racial discrimination: Experiences of black medical school alumni at the University of Cape Town, 1945 - 1994

A M Perez, N Ahmed, L London


Objective. Reflecting on its role during apartheid, the University of Cape Town (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences undertook a study to explore the experiences of black alumni who trained in the period 1945 - 1994.
Design. Seventy-five black alumni were selected through purposive and snowball recruitment, resulting in 52 face-to-face and 23 telephonic or postal interviews.
Results. Experiences of racial discrimination were widely reported and respondents believed the quality of their training was adversely affected. Until 1985, black students were required to sign a declaration agreeing to excuse themselves from classes where white patients were present. Black students were denied access to white patients in wards, and the university admitted that it could not guarantee their clinical training. Tutorial groups were racially segregated. Black students were also excluded from university facilities, events and extramural activities. Themes that emerged were: lack of social contact with white staff and students during training, belief that white staff members actively or tacitly upheld discriminatory regulations, and resistance by black students. Efforts of some white staff to resist discrimination were acknowledged.
Conclusion. Racism was entrenched explicitly and implicitly. Perceptions of the attitudes of white staff to apartheid legislation on the part of black alumni were diverse, ranging from claims of active support for racial discrimination to recognition of attempts to resist racist rules. These findings provided the basis for faculty transformation initiatives based on human rights, respect for human dignity and non-discrimination.

Authors' affiliations

A M Perez, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

N Ahmed, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

L London, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Full Text



South Africa; racism; discrimination; alumni; medical training; exclusion

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2012;102(6):574-577.

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-02-08
Date published: 2012-05-23

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