Cape Town - The late Hamilton Naki has been immortalised in the shadow of the hospital named after Dr Christiaan Barnard, with the City of Cape Town approving the renaming of Salazar Plain in honour of the laboratory assistant.
The new Hamilton Naki Square - adjacent to the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, between Rua Vasco da Gama and Rua Bartholomeu Dias - was given the go-ahead during a full council meeting on Thursday.
The proposal for renaming the square was made by Netcare, which opened its R700m hospital in December last year.
Naki’s story is depicted on the walls of the hospital’s 12th floor.
When the proposal was initially accepted for consideration, Netcare CEO Dr Richard Friedland - in an article on its website - said Naki had, without any formal training, "distinguished himself in assisting with the development of the advanced surgical techniques that would inform the world’s first human heart transplant".
"The exclusionary racial policies of apartheid, however, meant that he was denied the chance to become a surgeon and fulfill his potential in the field of medicine or to be appropriately recognised for his work," he said.
The square was named after former Portuguese prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar, "whose style of governance is understood to have resonated with the apartheid government at the time", Friedland explained.
"We believe that this space would better reflect Cape Town’s past, present and future if it was named after this prominent South African who, for so long, was marginalised, yet played an immensely valuable role in the world’s first successful human heart transplant."
Chairperson of the City of Cape Town’s Naming and Nomination Committee Brett Herron said on Friday that Naki, from Langa, was denied the opportunity of formal medical training due to the discriminatory policies of the apartheid government.
World’s first successful heart transplant
"Naki assisted Dr Christiaan Barnard in his preparations to perform the world’s first successful heart transplant in the Groote Schuur Hospital in 1967. Naki’s involvement in the preparations for this procedure received very little, if any, acknowledgement at the time," Herron said.
"2017 marks the 50th anniversary of this historic moment, offering us the ideal opportunity to celebrate and honour the contribution that Naki made."
Naki, who died in May 2005 at the age of 78, received the National Order of Maphungubwe from President Thabo Mbeki in 2002, and an honorary degree in medicine from UCT following his retirement.
News24 previously reported that Naki, who grew up in the Eastern Cape, began working as a gardener at the University of Cape Town and, in 1954, was asked to help Robert Goetz at the university’s medical facility.
He initially took care of laboratory animals and later performed anaesthesia and transplants on them.
When Goetz left, Naki started working for Barnard, who performed the world’s first successful heart transplant in 1967.
There were claims that he helped Barnard in this procedure, and both The Economist and the New York Times published articles supporting this claim after Naki’s death.
They were retracted once evidence emerged that he did not participate in the surgery.