Limpopo doctor 'completely unaware' of racial segregation at his practice, apologises

Polokwane – A Limpopo doctor accused of racially segregating his patients and staff, and charging different rates according to race, released a general public apology on Friday, insisting he was not aware of what was going on.

The apology comes after the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) received several complaints about Dr Jimmy van den Berg's Mokopane practice, which apparently had separate waiting rooms, consultation rooms and reception areas for black and white patients.

"[Staff] had segregated toilets and kitchens and could not use the same kitchen utensils," said SAHRC spokesperson Victor Mavhidula after inspecting the practice.

Van den Berg's apology, however, makes no direct mention of any of the allegations that were made public by the SAHRC. He refers only to racial conduct.

"I was completely unaware of this conduct as my main function is to examine and treat patients to the best of my ability irrespective of race or colour. Having said that, I accept the fact that I, as [the] owner of the practice, am responsible for everything that happens here," wrote Van den Berg.

"Most of my patients, irrespective of race, were astonished [by] what they read in the news and informed me of their continued support."

Apology accepted

He apologised "to any person who has been offended by this practice" and added that he would "take the necessary steps to eliminate everything that may lead to that illusion again".

It is also unclear if Van den Berg has admitted to the allegation that he charged black patients more than his white patients.

Despite the vague wording used in the written apology, Mavhidula said that it had been accepted by the SAHRC.

"The commission conducted several inspections at the medical rooms and confirmed that patients and staff were being segregated on the basis of race," said Mavhidula.  

"Dr Van den Berg agreed to cooperate with the commission and indicated his willingness to resolve the matter expeditiously and amicably."

The general practitioner signed a conciliatory agreement with the SAHRC on Friday, however, the content of the agreement has not been made available to the public.

The SAHRC also required Van den Berg to provide 48 hours of free medical service at a medical facility serving a disadvantaged community, and that he covers the cost of one counselling session for each member of his staff adversely affected by the segregation at his medical practice.

The SAHRC has indicated its intention to pursue harsher penalties through the courts should the terms of the agreement not be honoured.

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