Militant in health cash plea

October 11, 1996

Denis Goldberg, former sabotage commander of the African National Congress, now director of a charity aiding reconstruction and development in South Africa, is courteous, genial and persuasive.

"Even poor students in Scotland who are going to live on loans can help. Small sums translated into South African currency make a tremendous impact," he urges.

Professor Goldberg, a visiting professor in social science at Glasgow Caledonian University, and nominated as honorary president of the students' association, made his sales pitch during a seminar on South Africa's future, in which he highlighted the problems created by a legacy short on education and training.

"You can't run modern machinery unless you're educated, but how do you teach tens of thousands of people when you don't have the teachers?" he asks.

Professor Goldberg joined the national high command of MK, the armed wing of the ANC, in 1962, and was arrested at its Rivonia headquarters the following year alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others. They were found guilty of high treason and sabotage, but while his black comrades were sent to South Africa's Alcatraz, Robben Island, he served his 22-year sentence separately in a whites-only jail in Pretoria before being exiled to London.

Now based in Britain, he is committed to winning international support for the new democratic South Africa, particularly to help improve conditions in rural and deprived areas in his homeland. His charity, Community H.E.A.R.T (Health Education and Reconstruction Training), backs outreach projects from the Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa), which trains 65 per cent of black doctors in the country. Its initiatives include a maths and science bus in which two highly trained teachers will go daily to ten secondary schools, helping pupils prepare for tertiary education as well as upgrading teachers' knowledge and skills.

Professor Goldberg hopes to extend the scheme to two other universities in the Eastern Cape Province, with each bus costing Pounds 50,000 in the first year, and Pounds 30,000 in subsequent years.

Most Medunsa medical students take at least eight years to complete the six-year degree because of their poor school education and the university's desire to maintain high standards. He believes the Community H.E.A.R.T. initiative could allow students to reduce this by at least a year. He acknowledges that it is most cost-effective for government to concentrate resources in the big population centres.

"And yet there is the economic need for the countryside to develop, otherwise the flow of people to the urban slums, the 'informal settlements', we used to call them squatter camps, will become more and more rapid, and denude the countryside of its most educable and intelligent people, those who can take initiatives."

Some regions have only one doctor for 20,000 people, and only 2,500 of the country's 24,000 doctors are black, although blacks make up 35 million of the 40 million population. While 95 per cent of doctors from Medunsa not only stay in South Africa but in their own province, about half the graduates from white medical schools leave the country, he says.

"It's a hell of a way to train the doctors of the other countries of the world. The ministry of health is talking about lengthening the compulsory internship of recent medical graduates from one to two years, and they would have to go where they were placed, but the outcry is enormous."

Glasgow Caledonian has been forging strong links with South Africa, and its faculty of health is developing advanced training programmes for Medunsa staff, as well as collaborating with the University of Transkei to develop training for nurses in the Eastern Cape Province, helping them meet local medical needs.

"Nurses have been trained as though all of them will always work in high-tech hospitals, but community nurses will be the backbone of the national health service which is being established for the first time in South Africa," Professor Goldberg said. "For the first time ever, pregnant women and children up to six can have free medical care."

Glasgow Caledonian is also conducting research with three South African universities on providing cheap housing. The government needs to build 300,000 new homes every year for five years.

Donations can be sent to Community H.E.A.R.T., PO Box 6504, London N1 8HU.

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