Retirees witnessed passage of history at UCT

23 November 2009

Retiree William Melenephy with VC Dr Max PriceTime out: Retiree William Melenephy of the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, with VC Dr Max Price.

Both demanding and fulfilling is how retiring staff members described their time at UCT, as the university bade them farewell at the Retirees Dinner on 12 November.

One of these was William Melenephy, whose 37 years of service had its ups and downs.

Melenephy said he had met many interesting people at UCT, in particular foreign visitors, and fondly recalls the support he received from colleagues.

He also remembers the bad old days at UCT. As a cleaner in the 1970s, he and his colleagues were often instructed to perform extra duties without pay. And at the time, coloureds were barred from using the same facilities as their white counterparts.

This was the shame of that time, as psychiatrist Associate Professor Denise White put it when she presented the official retirees' response at the dinner.

Among friends: (From left) Dr John Lazarus, Dr Dick Barnes, retiree Assoc Prof Alan Pontin of the Division of Urology, and Dr Anne Gudgeon.

As a student at UCT in the 1960s, there were no Africans in her class, and coloured and Indian colleagues were not allowed to go near white patients at Groote Schuur Hospital.

White also remembers when, after Chris Barnard's landmark heart-transplant, students achieved celebrity status because of their association with Groote Schuur, and were often seen signing autographs for tourists.

She said that, as retirees, they had been "privileged" to have been part of a momentous passage from apartheid to democracy, with the Faculty of Health Sciences now fully integrated.

"However, there is still a long way to go for the ills of the past to be fully redressed," she acknowledged.

White challenged fellow retirees "not to go home and feel sorry for yourself", but to continue making contributions, as the need for their services is still so great. This was in response to vice-chancellor Dr Max Price's earlier call that retirees should consider offering their services to students in new capacities.

As one "retiree to other retirees", chair of Council Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane assured the special guests that there is life after hanging up their jackets, "and the greatest joy in retirement is that you do what you want to do, not what you must do" (View the photo album).

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