Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Minister for Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs
Prof. KP Mokhobo Foundation 1st Annual Lecture
Madiba Banquet Hall, Potchefstroom
27 August 2022
Chairperson of the Board Rev. Elisha and other board members of the Foundation.
Your Worship, Comrade Nikiwe Num, the Mayor of the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District.
Your Worship the Executive Mayor of JB Marks Municipality, Mr Gaba Ka Qhele.
Councillors and senior government representatives.
Ladies and gentlemen.
With humility, and most importantly, let me greet our celebrant and servant of the people Prof. Mokhobo.
Thank you to the Foundation, for the invitation to participate in this inaugural lecture. This event is really a rare blessing, as it is not too often that we pause to celebrate the giants who inspire us and still walk amongst us. Today we pause to honour one such giant. Professor Mokhobo, whose shoulders we stand on, is a living legend. Despite having been born in rural South Africa, 90 years ago, he has risen to influence and impact positively in our country on all races, classes, genders, and humanity. This is remarkable because he was born and raised at a time when rural and African child was doomed to a life of servitude. His life pays homage to the billions who for centuries were living in poverty and oppression, across our continent.
Nevertheless, his life confirms the African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. In his book entitled “From Nowhere to Somewhere: Uncharted Destiny” he attributes his success and victories to “Assistance that came from various unsolicited quarters, testified to the inherent good nature of people.” Much of this assistance came from ordinary rural South Africans from Potchefstroom of all races and classes.
Instrumental in his tempering were his family and grandparents Ntate Mogolo Tempese and Mmamokati Mpitse as well as Mangwane Martha who together with her husband Ntate Mpitse took primary responsibility for his early upkeep. Of course, his story is no different to many South Africans of that time and today, who were raised by grandparents and extended families. But of course, the end of his story is different.
Children of today, unfortunately, do not have a full grasp of this concept of the extended family and the power it also has in transferring values, culture, and history. My own personal experiences point to some of the advantages of this by-product of the migrant labour system. Following my deployments, I had to lean on my own mother to assist in raising my children, thus I uprooted her from a rural home to live with us in Pretoria. I was comfortable with this because I knew my mother would impart the same values, she had raised us with.
Like many South Africans, Prof. met his biological mother, who was a domestic worker at the age of 18. Like countless South Africans, he never met his biological father. Also instrumental in his education and encouragement was his brother who passed on in 1965. Like most rural children his early childhood education was of an informal nature and knowledge and history were passed on in hushed voices orally. He was to only enter formal education in a farm school, at the ripe age of ten, in farm schools established by the “baas” and where his adoptive father worked. Despite this late start and learning conditions he excelled.
An important foundation for that excellence and his own professional activism, throughout his life, was the adopted greater community of Potchefstroom. They instilled in him the admirable values of service and Ubuntu. All of this and his life are a demonstration of the ‘inescapable network of mutuality which cuts across the philosophy of Ubuntu and it holds that “I am — because you are”. In my language we say, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, “motho kemotho kabatho”. The philosophy is also based on nature’s understanding that nothing exists in isolation from another thing, thus it does not exist for its own sake. It exists in harmony with and with another source of energy, growth, or livelihood.
Prof. Mokhobo comments in his book that “In my case, success was certainly almost entirely the result of lucky strokes and unexplained events which came to the rescue at the right time and in the correct manner.” One would not like to differ with a professor, but one can say that it could have not been only luck but also the hard work and the way he and society lived in complement that also made these successes possible. One lucky stroke, if we can call it that, was the appearance of a story in the Potchefstroom Herald, in the 1950s. The story told a tale about an academically brilliant young black golf caddy, who had the dream of becoming a medical doctor. Of course, that caddy was the person who we now know as Professor Mokhobo. In that ‘stroke’ of the ‘inescapable network of mutuality a Jewish businessman called Hugh Calderbank as well as the villagers of Mooibank and Potchefstroom rallied and supported him to enter medical school. Eventually leading him to qualify as the very first black cardiologist in South Africa.
Programme Director, we must remember that entry to any university for a rural African child was a near impossible feat, let alone a medical school at that. However, his hard work and academic abilities placed him at the top of the class. He outperformed African children who had a slight advantage on account of having studied in better urban and missionary schools. I am also certain, that had he been given the opportunity he would have outclassed students from white schools, but at the time they would have not offered him to prove that the African was equal or could surpass European capabilities.
We must also remember that at the time it was near impossible for an African to study medicine. Some of you may recall that despite William Soga, the son of struggle stalwart Tiyo Soga, being the first black medical doctor in 1883, it was only in 1940 that it was possible to enrol through a special permit in South Africa. Consequently, Prof’s alma mater, Wits was the first to accept blacks with permits to study in 1941. However, beyond the permit Africans would have to have also completed a first degree at the South African Native College, which was later called Fort Hare. So, the barriers to entry were quite high. Even when they were admitted they only accepted a few of about 12 at a time, in the years Prof studied there. Nonetheless, the Wits medical school had 46 Indians, 33 Africans and 3 coloureds by 1945. In 1947 that school produced the first black female medical doctor in Dr Mary Susan Malahlela.
We, therefore, take this opportunity, in this women’s month, to also pay tribute to all women in our country. On this occasion, we particularly pay tribute to women healthcare workers such as Dr Malahlela, Ma Albertina Sisulu and many other women who were revolutionary healthcare workers at the forefront of our liberation. These professional women and healthcare workers constitute most healthcare workers and were at the forefront in our fights against COVID-19 and the recent floods which ravaged certain parts of our country. We take off our hats for their contributions and sacrifices. Some of these workers have had to pay the supreme price, and we extend our condolences to their families and colleagues. Some of these female health care workers have had to work in substandard conditions with less pay than their male counterparts. We, therefore, take this opportunity to renew our call for equal pay for equal work, particularly in the private health facilities where these inequalities are glaring and continue to be determined by race and class, over and above gender.
Programme Director, you will recall that the election victory of the Nationalist Party in 1948 was to retard the little progress that had been registered in the medical field. The core of African students had come from the missionary schools, which had been shut down by the Bantu Education Act of 1953. This entrenched and extended what was already a comprehensively, racialised and segregated state. This was in line with the apartheid doctrine which Verwood best described when he said, “there is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour… what is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice”.
There is no doubt the Wits campus life could not have been easy for Africans, especially those who came from rural South Africa. They were left to fend for themselves with very little institutional and social support. In his own words “Africans were seen but not heard”, who often spoke on behalf of Africans. It is therefore remarkable a feat that the likes of Professor Mokhobo made it. Today’s generation and the young ones would not understand that we were not allowed to study. We were taken to school only for the sake of understanding commands which were to be issued by the White man. They did not want us to be professionals, and with time, because of demand, they shifted away from permits to exclusive facilities for blacks. I for one, studied medicine at the University of Natal where we were not allowed to participate in the full social and academic life of that University. We lived in the old army barracks and were not even allowed to wear the University blazer. It is the resilience of the African spirit that made the likes and Professor Mokhobo and us to survive.
Today, we are partly free because we can vote and mayors as well as public representatives. But we will never be free until we have political freedom. We must change the material conditions that confront the masses. Also, as OR Tambo once said we cannot claim freedom until all women are anticipated and do not suffer any forms of abuse or violence, including Gender Based Violence and Femicide. As long as women are paid less for the same job, we cannot claim freedom. Progressive men must also join this fight, because as I often say that women only have one month in the year, the rest of the year belongs to men.
As has been said here by previous speakers, opportunity is very central to the transformation task. Thus, when given an opportunity women utilise it far better and in support of the greater good and community. I often refer to research which has shown that when provided an income, men utilise up to 30% of it in support of the basic unit of society — the family. On the other hand, women spend 70% of their income supporting the family. This means when you provide an income to a woman you also support the family. Research has also shown that companies which have women or are women-led are more competitive and prosperous. This is so because women can better multitask, even in the home.
Programme Director, we have paid careful attention to these early years, because we believe that it is these formative experiences, that greatly shape what and how one becomes. We have also laboured on these early years because very little of this is documented beyond the book. But we believe that these experiences confirm the assertions we have often made that education and skills are the single most important equaliser, when addressing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
The life of Professor Mokhobo also confirms that education is the most profitable investment which benefits an individual, country and communities for a lifetime. You just have to look around this room, to understand that education did not just benefit him, but also our communities, country and continent. It has also always been our long-held view as the movement I serve that the doors of learning and culture be open at all levels. If they are never open, we will never progress as a nation.
We, therefore, take the opportunity offered to us to pay tribute to Professor Mokhobo, who selflessly utilised education to uplift our nation and the SADC region in countries such as Lesotho and Swaziland. It is here that he began to shape and better understand what an optimum construct for just and fair health care and education system should be. This was the core approach he adopted as he chiselled medical professionals as a lecturer and Dean of the Medical School in MEDUNSA. So, we owe him a big debt and gratitude. I am also glad that we are talking about this whilst he is still alive.
Programme Director, for Prof. the pursuit of health and education, were two sides of the same coin. The opportunity offered to us today also provides us with the possibility to utilise the magnificent canvass provided by his life, to arm ourselves with the necessary traits and experiences to shape a better South Africa and Africa We Want. As we do that, paramount in our minds should be the words of uTata Madiba who in July 1993 told the Clark University Investiture, in Atlanta, Georgia that –:
“We must address the issues of poverty, want, deprivation and inequality in accordance with international standards which recognise the indivisibility of human rights. The right to vote, without food, shelter and health care will create the appearance of equality and justice, while actual inequality is entrenched. We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. While providing the rights associated with democracy, our constitution should also create the basis for an expanding floor of entitlements so as to accord every citizen that measure of dignity intrinsic to being human.”
Prof’s life carries important lessons of overcoming adversities and the required traits to never give up. So, we can say, without fear of contradiction that despite his humble beginnings Prof was able to reach unimaginable heights of excellence. He did so by utilising health, education, and the sense of community as his principal weapons. In his reflections on his choice of the profession he says: “The field of medical practice reminds us that for humanity to progress further, we need the support and care of one another.”
Given this life experience, when in the early years of our democracy we had to shape our healthcare system, we turned to Professor Mokhobo and others. Principal to our concerns was that the health care system in our country was benefiting a few, who were of a certain colour and class. At the time the over 114 thousand health care workers were concentrated in urban areas and in the private health care sector. In rural South Africa the doctor patient ratio was 1: 1 900 in rural areas versus 1:700 in urban areas. Which meant that even though rural communities had fewer facilities, even in those facilities there were no doctors.
To compound this 60% of doctors were in the then growing private sector, which was far too expensive for most of the population. Only a third of these doctors were female and very few were African females. Rural children, just like the early years of Professor Mokhobo’s life, still had a lesser chance to become medical professionals, or any other profession for that matter. A feature which, despite progress, continues to persist, with the Department of Health currently estimating that less than 3% of medical graduates want to work in rural areas.
Our academic institutions could simply not churn out the calibre and number of doctors and healthcare professionals to address these challenges in the short term. Of course, all these and other challenges that continue to belabour our society find root in the planning systems and approaches of the Apartheid and homeland governments. Ever conscious the words of Madiba who said health “cannot be a question of income [but] it is a fundamental human right”.
We therefore turned to our friends in Cuba. Very much to the irritation of the private sector and the mainstream education institutions. Additionally, the then Medical and Dental Council, which is now called the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) refused to accredit Cuban trained doctors and professionals to practice in South Africa, because in their view their training was inferior. This even though the World Health Organisation (WHO) had ranked the Cuban medical healthcare system and training as one of the best in the world.
From a government perspective, we had been attracted to the Cuban system because of the close link and prioritisation of health and education, which cannot thrive in isolation of one another. We were also impressed by the health policies which emphasizes prevention, primary health care, services in the community, and the active participation of citizens. To us the Cuban experience demonstrated the influence of ideological commitment and policy-making. The Cuban experience, since the revolution, also challenges the assumption that a high-quality care for all citizens requires massive financial investment. Having seen the programme in action and noting that Cuba had the healthiest and high education attainment rates, we were confident in the system.
We therefore asked the Medical Council to select 10 of their own professionals and academics, to travel to Cuba to subject the Cuban health and education systems, in all their facets, to a rigorous inquiry. That panel of academics included Professor Mokhobo. The prof and his colleagues were able to tell the truth and their report paved the way for the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Programme, which has since 1997 produced 2 556 doctors, some of whom are specialists. Currently the programme produces an average of about 600 medical doctors per year, which according to the Department of Health surpasses South Africa’s own production of doctors. Most importantly, a core by product of the programme is patriotic and activist doctors, who are better attuned to the social determinants of health.
Programme Director, it is no exaggeration when I say that the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Programme and the students that graduated from the programme have been greatly inspired and influenced by Professor Mokhobo. The Foundation will have to do more to tell the country and the world about the life and times of Prof. His life conforms that without healthy, educated, and skilled citizens we cannot drive any growth and development. We cannot be able to produce nor innovate if the people are hungry, malnourished, unhealthy, uneducated and without skills. We will be unable to turn our endowments into wealth and shared opportunities in the absence of knowledge and health. Without education and skills, we will be unable to reverse the African paradox of a rich Africa but poor Africans, which paradox has been confirmed by the fact that the whole world has developed on African resources but Africans have remained poor.
Programme Director, given the history, experiences, and activism of Professor Mokhobo we should appreciate and hope that more people plough back in the places of their birth and origins. The Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, is lucky to have a committed person such as the Prof. who is willing to actively participate in addressing the socio-economic and economic challenges which confront the district. These include high levels of poverty and unemployment. Education and skills levels are very low. Despite the high potential and its natural endowments the tourism sector is grossly underdeveloped. It’s reimagined future requires skilled young meb and women who can resuscitate the mining sector whilst growing tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. There is far too much talent, here and in our country. Fortunately talent is evenly distributed in the world, however opportunities are not. Thus we commend this Foundation for the work its doing and I going to do in unearthing talent.
The work you are doing requires leadership in the guise of Prof. Mokhobo. We must emulate his servant leadership in solving the people’s challenges and in fulfilling their aspirations. The municipalities must also emulate this and seek to exemplary whilst aspiring to be the best. We can be the best if we set our minds to it and just like Prof. if we employ long term planning. The District Development Model (DDM) provides the support and resources required from all spheres to implement long term planning. This needs to be complemented with support from institutions like the Foundation, as well as the private sector, business, religious sector, academic, tradition all sectors of society must contribute.
We believe in the objectives of the Prof KP Mokhobo Foundation because we believe that it will assist in unearthing hundreds of thousands of talented young people here and in the surroundings. It will take thousands of Professor Mokhobo’s in all areas of human endeavour to turn the fortunes of this beautiful land. We therefore pledge our support to the Professor Mokhobo Foundation because we believe in the health, education, and skilling every child. Especially blacks and Africans as well as the girl child who were most oppressed. We are also inspired by the Professor’s words when he said:
“In many a situation similar to mine, the environment can be a fatal and destructive derailment. One had to have the ability to learn quickly and to have the potential to avoid pitfalls.”
The road is never linear, nor is life. We must learn from our mistakes, as Madiba once said “the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Therefore, the life of Professor Mokhobo offers us another important lesson, that the avoidance of pitfalls requires much reflection and self-introspection. Tata Nelson Mandela in the Long Walk to Freedom says:
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way.
But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come.”
Prof. today, we do just that and in your presence, we steal a view of the glorious vista. Despite growing up on the ‘wrong side’ of the proverbial tracks, we can also say without fear of contradiction that we consider you one of our foremost revolutionaries. We say so remembering Fidel Castro’s Revolutionary Ideals, which he first pronounced in the 2000 May Day Speech, wherein he says —
“Revolution means to have a sense of history… it is changing everything that must be changed… it is full equality and freedom… it is being treated and treating others like human beings… it is achieving emancipation by ourselves and through our own efforts… it is challenging powerful dominant forces from within and without… it is defending the values in which we believe at the cost of any sacrifice… it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity and heroism… it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism… it is never lying or violating ethical principles… it is profound conviction… Revolution means unity, it is independence, it is fighting for our dreams and for the world, which is the foundation of patriotism, our socialism and our internationalism.”
Today we thank and toast to this great revolutionary who has spent every waking moment in the service of his people, and every sleeping moment dreaming of the day when we all shall be totally free, and the African child can find his or her place in the sun.
 See: D Welsh, The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, 2009, pg. 47, Jonathan Ball Publishing.