As citizens across the country were outraged and polarised recently over the racial fault lines and tension over a racist advert made by Unilever’s TRESemmé hair care brand and published on Clicks’ website, the incident has led to a wider debate about race and racial policies in other local industries. This article forms part of three-piece package that helps contextualize this debate. Here are the other two articles:
South Africa’s healthcare sector, now part of a worldwide pandemic, has not been spared the critique for being neither inclusive nor transformed enough in this democratic dispensation.
Speaking to City Press on the racial dynamics in the medical industry, as well as his own experience of alleged racial targeting, Professor Shisana Baloyi, the academic head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of the Free State said: “We haven’t even moved an inch in addressing racism and systemic racial issues in this country.
“We made mistakes with our new dispensation … we overtrusted our [black] organisations,” Baloyi said.
The big organisation that failed everyone is the ANC: “It did not champion the real transformation. There is still racial inequality in all spheres of the healthcare industry – be it at the training level, the assessors level or the business level, the black person is still severely disadvantaged.”
In 2018, Baloyi was embroiled in a controversy, which he says was a racially motivated attack on his integrity, with the College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and its custodian body, the Colleges of Medicine of SA (CMSA). This was after he was accused of leaking questions for a gynaecology module exam by giving students as “mock” test earlier that year.
As a result of that accusation, he was removed from the examiners’ panel, despite having not seen the examination paper in question before the exam. However, he was later cleared after a report by the CMSA found that there wasn’t enough evidence that showed “intentional and deliberate disclosure”.
At the time, City Press reported on the ire his case had raised among his peers, who wrote to then chairperson of the health portfolio committee in Parliament, Mary-Ann Dunjwa, accusing the College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of racism.
They also raised concerns about the “victimisation” of black candidates wanting to specialise in the different fields, as well as of black examiners.
Today, Baloyi is still championing the cause of black medical students, and says he is now in another fight to help three psychiatry speciality candidates who passed their written and oral exams, but are being denied their specialisation due to technicalities.
“And you can clearly see in most instances that the issues are just racial … I’m a trainer, I can tell if you’re going to be a specialist or not very early on. And I will tell that student to not waste their time training for four or five years,” he said.
“In academic training itself in healthcare, whether at the level of undergraduate or postgraduate, there are still serious disparities. For instance, we only have two universities [Medunsa and the Walter Sisulu University] out of nine that were mainly for black people. The third university medical school is still in its infancy at the University of Limpopo,” Baloyi said.
“If you look at the admission criteria, the black child hasn’t been favoured. The majority of students coming out are still white and when they say, ‘Oh well, there are black students going through as well’, it’s mostly coloureds and Indians they are talking about.”
Last month, health ombudsperson Professor Malegapuru Makgoba penned a hard-hitting opinion piece (published by News24) about the inherent racism in the scientific field, which left many black scientists intellectually and socially isolated.
“Black scientists encounter discrimination when they embark on a science career in Western countries. The overwhelming message from their experiences is that the culture of academic science where black scientists are underrepresented is riddled with deeply entrenched racism of various forms and subtleties,” Makgoba wrote.
Of his own 2018 case in which he said race played a definite role, Baloyi was adamant: “Even in my case, where I was accused of helping students via mock tests, there was nothing like that. I did nothing of the sort. It was just jealousy by some white man, all because I became a head of department and that role was always previously exclusively for white people. It was just racially motivated frivolous allegations.”
Baloyi said the key lesson he learnt during his debacle was that South Africa was still a long way from true transformation and racial equality.
As a parting shot, he said: “Some of us have lived under and fought apartheid, and we are now disillusioned as things aren’t going anywhere in terms of racism.
“In the healthcare industry, the same people who were controlling then [during apartheid] are still controlling today. It’s all still so racially bound and if you’re black, you’re going to get the worst deal.
“Even now, looking at the country’s Covid-19 approach – look at who the minister of health’s advisers are. Does it mean there aren’t any black academics who are competent? So who is failing us? It’s our leadership,” he said.
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