The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) celebrated Africa Day on Tuesday, 25 May, under the theme, “Re-imagining Health in Africa”. The celebration was a hybrid event, taking place across three venues plus a virtual component.
The venues were the Neuroscience Institute Auditorium, the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), and the New Learning Centre. To comply with COVID-19 pandemic protocols, a maximum of 50 people were allowed in each venue. In addition, the event was streamed live in order to allow one of the speakers and other attendees to participate virtually.
The beating of drums at the three venues signalled the start of the celebration. Dr Tracey Naledi, the deputy dean for Health Services, was the programme director for the event. In her opening remarks, Dr Naledi reflected on the current situation regarding healthcare in Africa.
The dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, welcomed attendees.
He reminded those present of Steve Biko’s words that Africa would bring a more human face to the world. He said the faculty tries to articulate “the notion of how do we project, authentically, that more human face that is Africa”.
Pan-African Health Sciences Forum
Associate Professor Green-Thompson pointed out that participants at the Africa Day celebration had gathered in a time of renewed reflection on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, as all the goals underpin the desires of Africans.
The Africa Day event organising committee was represented by Moses Isiagi, a PhD in medicine candidate at the Lung Clinical Research Unit and the chairperson of the Postgraduate Health Sciences Student Council at the FHS. He gave a brief report on the history of Africanism and where Pan-Africanism stands today.
He highlighted how Africaʼs great forefathers fought against colonialism using all means, including the famous Maji Maji rebellion of 1905–1907 where magical water and African weaponry were used against German oppression in Tanganyika. Today the concept of Pan-Africanism cuts across many sectors of the economy, with the committee representing the health sector, he said.
The committee’s vision, which is shared in the faculty, is to create a space of inclusion and support by celebrating the arts, culture and heritage that Africans share.
The committee’s mission is to organise social and cultural events for international African students and staff, to organise the annual Africa Day event, and to create platforms and avenues to support international students and staff.
Isiagi used the opportunity to announce the launch of the Pan African Health Sciences Forum (PAHS) in the faculty, which will replace the Africa Day committee.
Re-imagining Health in Africa
Other speakers at the event were Associate Professor Salome Maswime, the head of Global Surgery at UCT and chair of the Africa Day committee, and Professor Elelwani Ramugondo, the deputy dean for Postgraduate Education in the FHS.
Associate Professor Maswime’s talk was titled “Healthcare for Africa in Africa”. She pointed out that Africa Day is important because it forces Africans to reflect on who they are and where they are. Maswime recounted attending a high school where she was not allowed to speak her home language on the playground.
Many people, she said, still encounter similar struggles and have difficulty in expressing “our Africanness in Africa; leaving our culture on the doorsteps of our homes when we come to campus”.
It was important to recognise both the advances in healthcare in Africa as well as the disparities, she said.
“The greatest heroes of our generation … are going to be the people who unlock the real problems related to access; the people that will bridge the gap of inequity.”
She added that the current pandemic has created a new opportunity to reimagine healthcare in Africa and to rebuild the healthcare system for the Africa that Africans want to see.
“We cannot reimagine health in Africa without going back to our roots.”
Speaking on the topic of “Indigenous Knowledge”, Professor Ramugondo mentioned how she had had both negative and positive personal encounters with medicinal herbs. However, the main theme of her talk was resilience through resistance and coexistence.
“On resilience through resistance,” she said, “we have a powerful lesson to learn from the stuff that refused to burn with the recent fires on our campus.”
Among these, said Ramugondo, are notebooks and drawings on the culture, language and history of the first nations communities of the Cape Colony.
“As we think about these notebooks that survived the fire, we mustn’t forget the living archives in communities that continue to struggle for land,” she said, because these struggles have an impact on the health of people.
On resistance through coexistence, Ramugondo spoke about biomedicine coexisting with prevention and health promotion; Western medicine coexisting with indigenous health practices; and coexistence of languages. She asked what it means when we do not speak the languages that many people in the Western Cape speak.
The keynote address, “Re-imagining Health in Africa”, was delivered by Dr Flavia Senkubuge, the president of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA).
“We cannot reimagine health in Africa without going back to our roots. We have to reclaim the knowledge that was left to us by our ancestors.”
Dr Senkubuge stressed the importance of building an inclusive health system that responds to the needs of the population. African health facilities had to be laid out in a way that is reflective of the continent and that speaks to its communities.
She referred to the words of Patrice Lumumba who said, “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations … Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.”
The vote of thanks was delivered by Professor Graham Fieggen, the head of the Division of Neurosurgery. He said it was wonderful that it was largely possible to get together in person, as opposed to last year’s entirely online event. He thanked the speakers and the sponsors of the event (the faculty deanery, IDM, and the Neuroscience Institute).
He also expressed gratitude to the organising committee and the staff who had made it possible to connect, from three venues, with Dr Senkubuge and the online audience.
The event concluded with a simultaneous drumming performance across the three venues led by Associate Professor Muki Shey with Sidy Sangare and drummers.
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