Dikeledi Molatoli | Political doctors with no morals, and little ethics: Biko, Asvat and MaSisulu must be turning in their graves

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Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize leads a delegation to inspect the vaccine site at Munsieville Care for the Aged on May 17 2021 in Mogale City. Photo: Gallo Images/City Press/Tebogo Letsie
Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize leads a delegation to inspect the vaccine site at Munsieville Care for the Aged on May 17 2021 in Mogale City. Photo: Gallo Images/City Press/Tebogo Letsie


It would be prudent for Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to voluntarily resign from his Cabinet position while the Special Investigating Unit conducts an investigation into the irregular payment of R130 million by the national health department to a company called Digital Vibes, which is allegedly owned by associates of his.

I would, however, not hold my breath because we as the citizens have come to associate ANC leaders and members with low morals, little ethics and zero integrity.

Sadly, it is the ANC that has exposed us to medical doctors who, by being implicated and investigated for corrupt activities and pathetic leadership, can be said to be breaking both their Hippocratic oath and their constitutional oath as leaders in government.

This happens primarily because they seem to be more of politicians than health practitioners. Their political careers and their love for powerful positions take precedence over their medical professions.

Perhaps this is so because it is no longer a secret that political positions within the ANC are a ticket to the trough, an access to the looting of state resources.

When you have doctors such as former Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku and Mkhize, under whose watch millions of taxpayers’ money disappeared from their departments during a pandemic, and with allegations of their close friends, associates and comrades having illegally benefitted, you cannot help but ask: Is this not treason?

READ: Mondli Makhanya | Rivonia Trialists | What a generation. We were truly blessed

Many families, including mine, have lost loved ones to the Covid-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals lost their lives on the frontline fighting to contain the virus, in many instances exposed to Covid-19 due to not being provided with adequate and proper personal protective equipment.

Treason is defined as the highest of all crimes; the crime of betraying one’s country; the most serious offence one can commit against the government; a crime that is punishable by imprisonment, in other countries even by death.

In South Africa though, those who commit such betrayal carry on with their duties without any shame. When removed like Masuku was, they would rather fight to the bitter end, professing their innocence despite law enforcement authorities saying otherwise.

The Hippocratic oath is a code of professional ethics issued by all national medical councils in the world to re-enforce in doctors, on completion of their medical degrees, their obligations for professional conduct towards their patients and wider society. It was first adopted in 1847 and was over the years modified until it was adopted by the World Medical Association in 1947 and known as the Declaration of Geneva.

The latest amendment was done in 2017 and the moral truths of the pledge were revised in a way that could be acknowledged and comprehended in a modern way.

The core principle in the original oath is that of “primum non nocere” – first, do no harm.

The oath is primarily concerned with physicians being honourable in the practice of their profession, maintaining confidentiality about, among other things, the illnesses of their patients, as well as other medically related ethics.

It was this part of the pledge that caught my attention: “I will practice my profession with conscience and dignity and in accordance with good medical practice.”

The fact that ANC politician-doctors, who have put their politics before their professions, are embroiled in scandals relating to theft of state funds is what makes one to perceive them as doctors with no conscience and dignity, and thus as being in violation of their medical vows.

Steve Biko, the founding father of black consciousness, studied medicine at the University of Natal from 1966 until he was expelled in 1972, during his final year of medicine, for his political activities and leadership of the SA Student Organisation, a movement which he co-founded.

While still a student and post his expulsion from university, Biko was actively involved in the Black Community Programmes (BCP) – programmes which were founded to help the black community become aware of its own identity, create a sense of empowerment and revitalise resources to meet its own needs.

In 1973, after his banning and restriction to his home town of King William’s Town (now Qonce), he set up a BCP office and built Zanempilo Clinic in the community, working closely with Dr Mamphela Ramphele. When he was assassinated at age 30, Biko had already created a legacy in the clinic.

READ: Benzi Ka-Soko | The demise of PAC and Azapo killed a crucial voice

Following Biko’s example was Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) founding member Dr Abu Baker Asvat, an activist whose life was the embodiment of selfless, loyal and dedicated service to the people of Soweto and South Africa.

He took over a clinic in the impoverished informal settlement of MacDonald’s Farm, also known as Chicken Farm by locals, after being dismissed from Coronation Hospital for challenging racism.

He served under difficult conditions where there were no toilets or running water. He later provided portable toilets and established a school for the community in a broken bus.

Asvat worked hard, seeing more than 100 patients a day, in most cases free of charge.

In 1984 he employed Albertina Sisulu, a professional nurse and leader in the ANC and the United Democratic Front (UDF), an anti-apartheid body, when she was released from prison. They had a warm mother-and-son partnership which transcended even the height of conflict between Azapo and UDF activists in the 1990s.

When the Transvaal region was struck by cholera and polio in 1982, as the secretary of health in Azapo, his department headed a project focused on preventative primary health care, launching extensive awareness programmes, publishing and distributing a 20-page booklet on health which was written in different African languages. It provided simplified information on children’s health, breast feeding, cholera prevention, first aid and how to prevent the spread of venereal diseases.

Asvat also led the establishment of mobile clinics which travelled throughout the country to remote rural areas with teams of volunteers of nurses, dentists, optometrists and social workers, under the auspices of the BCP and the Community Health Awareness Project.

He earned himself the title of People’s Doctor for his dedicated service.

He was shot dead by two men in his surgery on January 27 1989, aged 45. The men, Zakhele Mbatha and Thulani Dlamini, who are sentenced to life imprisonment, were later linked to the infamous Mandela United Football Club.

Sisulu said to Asvat’s family: “My son died in my hands.”

READ: Book Extract | The assassination of Dr Asvat

Our country today is bedevilled by race- and class-based healthcare; with those who are already privileged by their class status and can afford private medical care stealing the last cent from the poor, causing them to die unnecessary deaths in overcrowded, filthy, under-resourced hospitals; with lack of medicines and equipment, poor ablution facilities, no water and demoralised overworked staff.

If Asvat, Biko and their comrades could achieve so much as young health practitioners and with little resources at their disposal, how far could South Africa have been with such conscientious leaders instead of the ones we have today who steal from us with impunity?

Biko, Asvat and MaSisulu must be turning in their graves.

Molatoli is a social justice activist and director of Bamboo Seeds Communications


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