About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Jan 1993: Luthuli, Albertina

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POM     Dr Luthuli, you come from one of the most distinguished families in SA and have led a life that has led you to being born, live, raising a family here in SA, to spending a period in exile, moving around from one place to another, to coming back to what is supposed to be a new SA or a SA that at some point in the not too distant future will have a government that is elected by the majority of the South African people. Could you just begin to tell me a little about yourself, when you were born, your own family, brothers and sisters, where you went to school, your education and your early encounters with whites, what kind of nature they took, when you became or perceived yourself as being oppressed, discriminated against and just how the first days of your life developed.

AL     Well as you rightly said and perhaps fortunately or unfortunately we were a nationally and internationally known family through my father. I am saying fortunately or unfortunately because I had not chosen, it puts me where I am. Now I am the second child in a family of seven. I am the first of our girls in that family. I was born at Groutville Mission which is about 18 - 20 kms from where we are right now. It's just 15 minutes drive to get there. Groutville is a village and in fact in those days it was called a Mission Station or a native village, that meant that it was a native reserve. In other words it was an area which was reserved for Africans only, not the other racial groups that live in this country. If you were a non-African to enter Groutville you had to apply for a special permit from the Magistrate. Now Groutville falls under the magisterial district of Stanger, you had to get a permit in order to visit a friend at Groutville or to enter Groutville.

     As far as I can remember really my parents were active people. My father was very involved with community work and even beyond that Groutville community itself. I think if I'm not mistaken he became Chief here round about the time I was born or just shortly thereafter. He was teaching at Adams College when the Groutville community had been asking him to come and live there and be a Chief. He was reluctant because those were two different things altogether. Adams College was something which was an academic institution, he was a respected and a teacher doing very well and the whole atmosphere was an academic atmosphere. Groutville, where he was going to be Chief, was sort of like being asked to go to a tribal situation which was not going to have the same kind of inspiration that he would get at an academic institution. So it took him about two years to decide to finally succumb to the call of his people.

     By the time I grew up, I grew up in a family where he was a leader in the community, he was Chief there. At all times one was living a life where there were people who were not necessarily your family. There were people all the time coming and going, coming and going. Within the family itself whilst there were seven children there were many relatives on my father's side and on my mother's side who brought their children to grow up under the guiding hand of my mother because my mother was a very good child grower, she was very good. Whilst my father was involved seriously with matters of other people more perhaps than his own family my mother carried the responsibility of taking care of the family to a large measure. She was a disciplinarian and you learnt to work hard and she was very, very serious about teaching children growing up respecting and knowing that hard work is a necessary thing in life and that in fact it keeps you healthy and that's what you must do. You must not look down upon work and she worked very hard herself. She was a teacher too, she was a teacher at Inanda Seminary. So we grew up, we worked very hard as children in my family. We went to the fields, we grew food for the family as well as for selling.

     ... mother-in-law worked at a Durban Women's Hostel in Grey Street in Durban as an Induna there, so she had access to a lot of people. From that our potatoes and vegetables, produce and food used to go to her and she would sell that. In those days - it hasn't changed much but it's better now - but in those days even if you worked as hard as my mother did, she was really a very hardworking and successful farmer within the community. She produced a lot of food. But there was no outlet for your produce within SA. You couldn't take it to the market for marketing and get your returns. You had to find a way somehow.

     We were taught the thing of not despising the soil, it doesn't matter if your hands get dirty from working the soil. Now this went on until in fact I went to College. First I was at Primary School in Groutville itself up to Standard 6, from first year to Standard 6, and then from Standard 7. I went to Adams College which is where my father used to teach at the Training College. I spent only one year at Adams College, my older brother was also there, but after the one year I had to move to St Francis College near Ramsgate. It's because at that point I had indicated what I wanted to do in life, I wanted to be a medical doctor. The choice of subjects was such that I had to make the change from Adams College to St Francis College.

POM     Obviously a premium was put on education in your own family, with both your father having been a Professor at Adams College and your mother teaching in the Primary School, so they inculcated into all of their children a very deep understanding of the importance of education?

AL     Oh yes I would think so, yes. In fact it's the whole area where we grew up. Our neighbour was also a teacher at Adams College. They were friends of my father. The whole neighbourhood just around there it was the same, being well educated people. So going to school was just - even though it's rural it wasn't the kind of rural where you may even not go to school, you just grew up, at the age of five or six you go to school. In my family in particular, as you say, both my parents were teachers and they knew that they had to guide the children and right from the beginning my father, both my father and my mother, but my father in particular, he took great interest in our schooling and school performance. With us, he would be wanting to know how you are doing at school, what problems you have and then he would try to assist you this way and that way and find out what you want to do and what is your aptitude and then try to guide you. If you are going to go that way then you need to do this and that and then if you were going for exams you were always being told that, "Well, we don't expect that there will be people who will be urinating on your head." I remember in my own case there was a boy, a classmate, who all the time - there was always that if you're going to come first then come first, it was that kind of thing and if it happened to come first then of course I went home and I would be told by my father that, "Oh, there's a smell of urine on your head". Not just me, all the children.

     You are right when you say there was some - I can't put it quite as premium put on education but it was a thing that was there.

POM     Before you get to college, tell me about what you learned at school in terms of history? Whose history did you learn?

AL     Actually I don't remember anything about the history from first year to Standard 6, or geography either. I don't think we were being taught anything of that at all. I was also not particularly interested in those subjects. I don't remember a thing, I think there was nothing important that came up except geography about the world being not square but round, that kind of thing. I really don't remember anything. I mostly remember arithmetic and English, English composition, things like that. I happened even after I went to college not to have been very much in the line of history and I don't really recall anything regarding the subject of history.

     But in Groutville itself, as I told you already, my father was a public figure, very much so, and he stood in a leadership position so he used to have a lot of people visiting him who were not African. He used to have Indians, lots of Indian friends from Stanger, and he had white friends as well. These people used to come home quite a bit and I grew up mixing a lot with Indian people, white people, there weren't so many Coloured I think in Natal but certainly lots of Indians. With the Indians it was easy for them to come because they lived in Stanger, they knew about the permit thing but they could always just come in anyway. Those rules were there, they were there to be ignored if you could or just go on doing the normal and the right thing to do hoping that there were no police to catch you. The whites had to take a little more care because they were coming from further away. They were not - Stanger and Groutville are very close together so you get to know, the Indian friends got to know, and some whites too in Stanger they got to know that you can just go in, you needn't worry about a permit, but if you came from Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town or a little further they bothered about a permit. But I grew up in that kind of environment that white people came, Indians came and all the separation of races didn't really hit me. I wasn't too bothered with it. One knew that we were separated by law but in fact people came to my home and lived with us and we served tea and they sat there and talked and laughed with my father and everything so it didn't hit me.

     Then there was a missionary family at Groutville, American Board Missionary, those were the people who set up Groutville Mission in the first place, a Reverend Grout way back in 1844. The missionaries every time there was a change they came and, of course, I think they are told way back in America itself where they came from, if you are going there you will get there and see Chief Luthuli, he is the leader within the community. If you get along well with him then it will mean that you will be accepted, that kind of thing. So they would come and go and take eggs or take a fowl and then we come back with a basket carrying scones from the missionary woman there, carrying scones and maybe some fruit for my mother and they worked things together. They did some women's things together, they were in things like Daughters of Africa. They would come to my home and meet there or sometimes go to another home or the missionary house itself.

POM     So until you were going to college at least, you didn't have a political consciousness of belonging to a people who were being oppressed by whites?

AL     I would say yes and no. Up to the time that I went to college, I was five when I started school and I went to college when I was 13.

POM     You went to college when you were 13?

AL     No wait a minute, 12, when I was starting my second year I was 12. College takes three years and two years so you usually complete at 17 or 18 because it was Form 1 to Form 3 and then Matric 1 and Matric 2. When I completed the 12th year I was at the beginning of 13 years when I left my family and I went to college but up to 12, I was pretty young. I think I grew up in a rather safe and protected environment. I would say, knowing now what happened, that was a totally different environment to the one of the township. My husband, for instance, who grew up in Orlando West, he grew up in a very different environment altogether even by the time he went to college there he had been subjected to quite a bit of trauma.

POM     So you are 13 and you go to ...?

AL     Adams College. Then after a year I left Adams College and went to Marionhill. I stayed in Marionhill all through my high school. I did all my high school education there. Then after that I went into medical school. Again it was the same. Marionhill was a school of very high achievement, they got very good results nationally.

POM     This would be an all African school?

AL     Yes an all African school again but it's a Catholic school.

POM     Catholic. It was a boarding school?

AL     It was a boarding school, the girls at the Convent with nuns.

POM     Oh I know what those nuns are like. That's where I began.

AL     And then the boys with the monks. A very big institution. A very good school.

POM     Now would this have been a school that really would cater for Africans who were better off in the sense that their parents could afford to send them there? Or were there bursaries?

AL     I think they placed emphasis on the report from the previous school. They tended to choose children who had good results and in that way, therefore, they maintained their own results at a high level. That's where they really placed their emphasis. Then of course it was Catholics, they are very strict and I was a Protestant myself. I came from a Protestant family. They liked my father, they respected him. The nuns and the Father there, the man overall and the monastery people, they all respected him.

POM     These nuns where white were they? So you had white teachers?

AL     Yes they were but there were some black teachers there, male as well as. I think there were two females, no, one lady African teacher. It was a nice atmosphere but it tended at times to get a bit irritating really, too restricted for us. We protested sometimes we were being told that we are not Christians. I had a very, very extroverted friend there, who is my friend to this day, Janine, we were in the same class and we used to do pretty well in class so we stood up for ourselves. We were both Protestant and if there was anything that we felt the nuns were doing which was discriminating against Protestants we really did stand up, we really did stand up and say to the teacher that we don't think that that is fair. As time went on we would even come sometimes saying that you really are discriminating against us because we are not Catholic, we are Protestant. You say it all the time and when you take walks like Saturday afternoon, the nuns would go for walks in the village around and they would take some students with them, and they invariably took Catholic children [even a member who was ...] but they didn't ask for myself and we felt that.

AL     We sat in.

POM     You had to sit in.

AL     Yes we sat in on the religious classes. For me, I had an added difficulty, I had a difficult complication at the beginning. I had to do mathematics and my father had gone there to negotiate that I would do mathematics because in those days if you were a girl you didn't just do mathematics you had to negotiate, it was for boys. What are you going to do in mathematics? In the end (they accepted that) girls would be doctors. So he had to go and talk to the nuns about it, that he wanted me to do mathematics because I had indicated that I wanted to become a doctor and I will need mathematics. And then, of course, there had been some resistance on the part of the nuns, "No, we don't like the girls mixing with the boys, she will be the only girl. It's a problem. We've had some girls like that." There had been before me a similar problem, they call it a problem. But then in the end they agreed but then the problem for them was that I would be a girl alone with boys in physical science and mathematics and that really rattled them. So even in class I had a bit of a problem there because to hold my head was in one direction only. If I looked on the side the nun would be thinking that I am doing something horrible that I shouldn't be doing, looking at a boy. And quite honestly I wasn't interested in boys, not at all. It went on like that but we did manage to get through the high school and it was instruction that one needed for my future studies. Experience, it was interesting from that point of view. I still feel that it was the best school I went to but Catholics have problems. I think they're just too rigid. Too rigid.

POM     Let me tell you about Irish Catholics!

AL     I haven't changed my mind because now as a doctor when I see what happened about that girl who needed an abortion, I respect the Pope very much and all that, but I'm a medical person, I don't agree with it that, and many others, that people should have no choice regarding the matter of abortion as long as it's within the medical parameters which are ethical.

POM     So you finished high school.

AL     And then I went to medical school. At high school again I wouldn't say that there was much in the way of an impact at the school itself but in my school life by the time I finished at Marionhill my perspective of life had widened really because of the children I was with. [My father was active and he had ...] Within my family there was always free talk, there was no rigidity. Between my parents and us as children there was always very free talk. They talked to us very freely and we talked very freely and in the evenings around dinner you could come with any subject and it doesn't matter whether it was political, sex, education or involving some religious matter in the church or whatever. Even if we argued against Christianity, the very basis of Christianity, sometimes we could challenge my father, engage him in some argument. We thought we were getting clever, doing science, learning that after all we didn't come from Adam and Eve and all that, no real scientific base. We would talk about things like that, we got quite into some hot arguments.

POM     Discussions, sure.

AL     My father was a very patient man, a teacher, very Christian. He would just sit there and listen and listen and listen to you and then he will come up and show you something. It was always that kind of situation.

AL     Now by the time I went to medical school, even though I was at an institution like St Francis College which put simply religion on top and national affairs were not paramount but they used to be debating societies and students debated. This Dr Chisero(?) who is in Zimbabwe now in the government of Zimbabwe, he has been Minister of Finance in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. I don't know if you know him? He is such an intelligent man, he's a superior intellectual. When we were young they were the top students at the school doing matric and all that and then we used to listen in to people like him debating and then we would talk about world affairs within the debating forum. So there was some exposure there but it's only when I got to medical school that I really became aware that the country I lived in was really a problem.

POM     So you would have gone to medical school in 19 ...?

AL     At the University of Natal. There was the Durban Medical School. Now maybe I can just tell you briefly about Durban Medical School. You see there were these institutions like Wits, Cape Town, UCT, I think those mainly which I would say were liberal universities. Africans could go to Wits or to UCT but in very insignificant numbers. They would take one or two per year in the legal department and the same in the medical school. Even the way they were treated, I don't know much about Cape Town, but at Wits they were marginalised in class. They would be put at the back all the time. If there was a demonstration like you are doing a post mortem and the professor is showing something, they would be right at the back so they don't see. There was always a problem about higher education for Africans, engineering, medicine and law. As I say, they entered them in very limited numbers and they were badly treated. The professors, especially in law for instance, the professors kept on black students who were doing law and telling them that law is not for women and Africans, and they were men the Africans who were doing law there. They would be discriminated against and then they were told that they would never pass and so it was in the medical unit as well.

     This made people think that we do have to cater for the Africans who want to do medicine and eventually they came up with the idea that ... People felt strongly about this and began to say let's have a medical school for the blacks in this country but because it came from liberal minded people they did not like the idea that in fact there was going to be school for blacks but there was nothing else that could be done. This was at the time when the English government was beginning to fail anyway and the Nats were becoming powerful because the medical school opened in 1951, the black medical school, but obviously preparations for it had started long before that but it cleared at the time when the English were losing power and the Nats were gaining power. In the circumstances even if it was going to be a segregated medical school it seemed - so in the end it was better to have something being segregated than nothing where the blacks could be produced in sufficient numbers as doctors. They were never going to be produced in anything like sufficient numbers, even now it's not sufficient numbers but it was better than what was going on which was two or three doctors per year, black doctors, and look how many black people are there waiting to be treated. So the black medical school came up then, Wentworth. Now it was for blacks only, no whites.

POM     It was called?

AL     Durban Medical School but the residence was Wentworth. Wentworth is about 20 minutes drive by bus, public transport , from Wentworth where the residence was to the medical school. The medical school was in a white area near King Edward Hospital, it had to be close to the hospital. First there was a real hullabaloo and a real fight by the white residents of Umbilo there when they learnt that there was going to be a black medical school there. It was terrible. You saw the whites in their true form, they just didn't want it there. They said all sorts of horrible things about having blacks around there. Mind you these were blacks that passed matric, nobody could go to medical school before you pass your matric. I don't think all the whites there had passed matric but at any rate they just didn't want blacks there. They said it's going to be like this, they are going to do all sorts of horrible things in their area. It would be a nuisance really because King Edward Hospital is there and is a big hospital for blacks. It was already there and they had been anti King Edward Hospital over the years but they had accepted that it is there anyway and brings these black crowds, but now to bring the medical school as well, that was just too horrific. However, the fight went on until the liberal minded people who were behind the project succeeded and they got the medical school put up there. We couldn't live anywhere near the medical school anyway, we had to be put at what were former barracks for the soldiers during the war, far away, deep in the valley at Wentworth. That residence was horrible, it was totally disgraceful to put university students at that place. Next to it was an oil refinery, Mobil Oil Refinery, huge and it puffed out foul smoke and smelt the whole day, the chimneys were low, so it was really pretty uncomfortable. We couldn't have our meals properly because most of the time you were sick, the whole environment was horrible and we were removed of course. It meant that we were removed from civilisation really. It should be part and parcel of university but you were put in that corner there, in that hole there. Nonetheless we made the most of it.

POM     Of the number of medical students the year you were there, how many would have been women?

AL     They were taking a very limited number because black students couldn't afford to pay through medical school for themselves so the arrangement was made with the government to provide scholarships. You had to win a government scholarship to enter medical school and the number was limited, they could only finance so many and at any rate the facilities at the beginning - so they started off with 35 per year and they could only take so many. It's a big medical school now but it started at 35 per annum and at entry they could only take that number and for some years they had to go on maintaining round about that figure of new entrants.

POM     How many might be women out of that 35?

AL     Very few women. At the beginning there were three, three women out of 35. But as time went on the numbers improved, we got not as many as men but you got quite a number of women. There were problems. Now this is where you were living in apartheid SA. You see the buses were segregated. We had to travel, we had no special transport for the students to take students from Wentworth to medical school so we used public transport, these double-decker red buses. Wentworth also is a white residential area on top there, apart from the barracks down there, but it's really white and there was an area of Coloureds.

POM     This is 1951, so the Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act and all the basic apartheid structures were in place.

AL     Yes, all the apartheid structures were rigid and they were there. You see the Nats came in 1948 and obviously at the beginning they had to make sure that everybody feels that they mean business. Apartheid was really a thing enforced brutally, it was really being enforced brutally because they felt that the successive English governments had been too liberal, they hadn't put the blacks in their place properly. Things were bad, relationships between blacks and whites were very bad. We would get into a bus, this double-decker bus, and just the fact that there is a group, it stops there to pick up black medical students, that was a problem for the whites on the bus and some drivers and conductors would see us standing at the bus stop there, they knew this was a group of those medical students down there and the bus would just pass and not stop, it would just leave us there. When you got one that stopped as soon as you enter the atmosphere tenses and then you couldn't sit at the bottom, you had to go and sit only on the top deck and even on the top deck it's so many seats at the back, I forget the number now, but you couldn't sit anywhere you liked. I think we went along with those silly rules for a very short time. If you have students together you don't get away with things like that. Sooner or later all that was being challenged, the students would just come in and they would just want to go and sit anywhere they liked on the top deck. So this brought a lot of conflict. There was always a lot of conflict on the night bus, especially during weekends, which brought students who had been to town, usually male students who had been to town for some adventure, relaxation or whatever and they come back, maybe they're even a little bit tipsy, they had no time for the nonsense on the bus. They would sit anywhere even the bottom if they wanted to sit at the bottom, so there were always clashes. When you get off at the medical school and when you go to get into the bus some pass, others pick you up, and it was always like that.

     However, at medical school itself Coloureds, Indians and us only. Now the majority were Africans and then Indians next and just a few Coloureds. At that time in fact there were only two boys from the Cape, just two. We managed, there was no friction at the medical school between the Africans, the Indians and the Coloureds, which went to show that all the separation that apartheid enforced, because even Africans are separated from Indians and Coloureds, it really had no basis that when you are brought together you are going to explode. There was never any such thing at medical school and also at Fastri College, the other side of Natal University, black side, Fastri College was big in Durban, that catered for the arts, law, arts and all that, it's on the medical school which was down there. But we were all Natal University and we were also Natal University with Howard College. You know Howard College?

POM     In the United States?

AL     No, no, this one here, where Natal University is now. You know where Natal University is now, the top thing there, right on top there, that was called Howard College. It still gets referred to as Howard College but that was the white component of Natal University and it was whites only, strictly white, the blacks were not allowed. They were all arts, legal, everything else except medicine but as I say the blacks were at Fastri College and the whites were at Howard at the university and the medical people were at Wentworth in Durban Medical School, all under the University of Natal.

     What I am trying to say here is that I spent a time at medical school with Indians and Coloureds, the lecturers were white and the teaching hospital was mainly black but in the administration there were a lot of whites there and there were sisters in the wards, most of them were white in the top positions. During all that interaction there were no problems. At medical school we had no problems with having white lecturers. Amongst us as students we were completely one, Indians, Africans and Coloureds, there was no problem whatsoever. The Indians and the Coloureds never found it difficult to work, the medical students, to work in King Edward because most of the patients there were black. It just isn't there.

     When the medical school came up, what I will say is this, King Edward Hospital which was going to be built, the main teaching hospital, the other one was McCord which was a mission hospital, smaller one, the main one was King Edward which was a government hospital. It was vast, a vast hospital and up till the birth of the Durban Medical School it was rather sloppy in its functioning, it was not upholding high standards, it was just a machine sort of set up. It didn't really maintain - standards were mediocre, they were not even middle range to say nothing of the hygiene aspect. Now when medical school was born we had very a determined teaching staff, professors, and the professors, the lecturers, the administrators who were all white were quite determined that they are going to show that it's nonsense to think that blacks cannot become doctors and that in fact standards need to be brought down if you are going to produce black doctors. Instead they placed the standards very high where even I had to do some subject which was called Family Planning & Community Medicine which was not done at Wits or Cape Town. We had found that out that it was not in the curriculum there but they introduced it at Durban Medical School and we were up in arms as students. We thought this was not in our favour, we thought it was just an impediment they were putting there, because we were black, by these white lecturers and professors, that they wanted to make it more difficult for us to become doctors by putting such subjects in that were not even done at white schools, so what for? Really there was a big battle between the medical students and the Department of Family Planning & Community Medicine but the professor who was put in charge of that department and his wife they were very patient people. They put up with all our nonsense and they tried to show us that one day we will be very grateful, we will appreciate going through this and indeed they were right, they were very right. As soon as we completed we called that subject 'spoof', we used to call it. It was first year Family Planning and Community Medicine so from that we just nicknamed it 'spoof' because we thought it should be spoof and just kept on the side. So when we completed it every one of us really we all said, "You know, spoof was a good thing". It equipped us with an attitude and something extra which we needed very much and we appreciated it in the end.

     When it came to the clinical years at medical school we had to go and work in the hospital itself. At that time the senior staff, as I say, was white. The sisters in the wards were white sisters. Superintendent and everybody and on the nursing side as well, matrons and everything, from senior matron to junior matron, they were white. Blacks were in the lower strata only. Now problems did arise. As I said to you, the medical school teaching staff altogether were clear that they were going to maintain very high standards and that they were not going to stand any nonsense also against their students from anyone. They had heard about the Umbilo residents and that had been, I think, they hadn't taken well to that as liberals. Now in the wards when it came to the clinical year the white sisters for the first time were going to have to work with black medical students who really once you are in clinical years you begin to be regarded as a doctor. The professors and the lecturers and everybody else addresses you in a professional manner and you are wearing that symbolic white coat and all that. Some of the sisters had problems, serious problems. They wouldn't take orders from black medical students and as the students gained confidence from year to year and you felt that you were becoming a doctor now, you are more capable of asserting yourself and giving orders and saying it should be like this and this and that, the tension grew. White sisters resigned, white matrons resigned and the few sisters who remained, white ones, they dwindled away little bit by little bit until there were none.

     

There is a special incident here which comes to mind. There was one sister who really was truly racist and she used to have a very bad attitude towards the medical students. Now one of the professors, who was professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, had in fact noticed that she was like that and he just wasn't going to have that going on. So one day he came in and then there was going to be a ward round and he asked the sister why this wasn't done and all that kind of thing. She just said that that student there ordered her to do something for the patient and she's not there to take any orders from these black people. The professor addressed her with the class and she put her tools down and resigned immediately. I am just trying to tell you that things were a bit difficult. These feelings, much as one doesn't understand why they are there, I think in some people they are real and entrenched. It's quite serious with them to hate a black. Much as I don't understand why, how they come to feel like that, I don't understand any person, it seems irrational, but you have to accept that they really have this very strong anti-black feeling. That was, I think, the first time in my entire career of education at medical school that I came really face to face with those kinds of people.

POM     Entrenched white ...

AL     Entrenched anti-black feeling amongst professionals. We were supposed to work as a health team in the interests of the patient but then you have got these problems arising so that in the end you can't even do the job that you're supposed to do for the patient. As I say, thank God, they left one by one until the hospital was cleansed of that kind of person and then the general standard of medical delivery was improved.

POM     In this hospital was it now segregated? Was it a black only hospital?

AL     Yes, oh yes. Hospitals were very strictly segregated. It was black and Indian.

POM     But even though over time there was attrition, there were some white personnel there, sisters in administrative positions?

AL     Yes.

POM     And then they began to resign when blacks began to emerge as the doctors.

AL     That's right, the blacks began to emerge particularly on the nursing side, they began to get promotions and took senior positions and they were matrons and all of that and you could ... towards that desired end. The other odd thing, of course, about apartheid is just that, that you have a black hospital like that, it's strictly segregated by law, it's black and then some Indians, Indians and blacks, but always many more blacks because there were some hospitals which were Indian and started by some wealthy Indians and therefore private hospitals for Indians which blacks didn't go to. So you got a few Indians coming to a hospital like King Edward, it was mainly just the Africans and yet the people who run the hospital are white who don't like these blacks. They want to keep themselves in the top positions and not promote the blacks so that they can move away from these people they hate so much. They want to stay there and that is beyond one's understanding. But in the end, as I say, they gradually moved out.

POM     You graduated, became a doctor?

AL     Yes when you graduate here in SA you get a degree which is Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, so it's an MBChB, it's a general degree. Then you do one year internship, you have to be in a working hospital, that's compulsory as an intern, really learning the art of practising medicine. I did my internship at McCord Hospital, the missionary hospital I told you of, which was also a teaching hospital but it's more contained, more like family administering it compared to the extensive, impersonal King Edward Hospital. After finishing the internship ...

POM     But this was also blacks only?

AL     McCord? No, no, no, McCord, it was again American Board Missionaries, it's their hospital. It's American Board Congregation Church and then they had these mission stations like Groutville, Inanda, Adams, and then they had this hospital, it's along the same lines, it's the same people behind it so it was more broad minded, it didn't really have segregation but they were in a country where segregation is there, where apartheid was the law. So you got people going into McCord Hospital if they wanted to and you could have a white patient walk in there and take a private room. They had private rooms. A very nice hospital with a very nice atmosphere.

POM     And the staff, doctors, were black and white?

AL     You mean the staff?

POM     Yes, the doctors were black and white?

AL     Yes the doctors were black and white. The superintendent was almost invariably American because it was their baby really. They had white doctors and doctors from overseas and that kind of thing. Now what happened is this, all students went on government bursaries, it came to about 1500 a year (pounds or rands?) and acceptance at medical school automatically meant that you were going to get the bursary. It was just taken that no African parent is going to be able to pay for seven years that amount of money and it became more after the first two years, the amount. We had to sign a contract with the government in accepting that bursary, that scholarship, there were conditions in that contract. One of the conditions was that when you complete you will only practice medicine amongst your own people. If you are African you will treat Africans, if you're Indian you treat Indians, never whites certainly.

AL     That was one of the conditions and the other one was that we will reimburse the government half the amount with interest from the time you finished your internship. Of this 1500 it means that it's 750 that you are going to pay but plus interest beginning from the time you finish internship. And the government will place you, be free to place you. In other words as time went on we began to see that it fitted in with the grand plan of apartheid. The fact that we couldn't pay for ourselves, the government drew up a contract which was going to make us, make the graduates of Durban Medical School, its tool. They could use us to effect their grand plan of apartheid because now they would place us in the Bantustan areas to be the doctors there.

     Before we qualified, you know we used to have a medical student organisation where we put our views and discussed our matters together and acted together. It was at this forum that we began to analyse things and it became clear to us that this was what the government had in mind and we had to strategise as students. We took decisions like - well we would go along with being educated, we need to be educated, but really when it comes to it we certainly aren't going to accept being placed wherever the government wants. So indeed we did exactly that. We went along and we completed our medical education and when the government called on one or two people to go and work here or work there we didn't, we just didn't respond. A few, one or two people responded and we sent delegations to go and talk to them and tell them, look here, you are erring, you shouldn't be doing that, but it carried on and there was nothing we could do about it. But on the whole it didn't work out.

     On the matter of practising within the narrow limits of blacks only, well there was nothing we could do about that because the hospitals are segregated anyway. There was Addington Hospital there for the whites in Durban and there was Baragwanath in Johannesburg and General Hospital in Johannesburg for the blacks and then they had a white hospital, I don't even know their names in Johannesburg. There was just no way that if you are a black doctor you are going to go and work there anyway. You are totally apart.

     I will recall one particular incident which shows the folly of apartheid. It was on a Sunday afternoon. I was in a private practice at Claremont and we decided to visit home, Groutville, and then I was in the car with my brother in law and his family, it was after my husband was on Robben Island. So as we were travelling along the North Coast road we came , I had been working so my bag was in the car in the boot. Now my brother in law's name was Tulani, so we're driving along and we came upon a crowd on the side of the road. There was an accident and indeed there was, so Tulani said, "I must stop". We stopped on the side, we went to see. He was a lawyer in fact, and then there was a horrible accident there but the victims were white, they were in a VW which had gone off the road and they were seriously injured. So Tulani came back and he said to me, "Oh, you know there are people there who are really suffering, they are moaning and groaning with pain and all that and they're bleeding, can't you just come out and do something for them?" I said, "Tulani, remember I'm a doctor in SA. I've got a contract with the government here that I cannot touch whites and I don't want early in my career to find that they are recalling my certificate. I will have none of it. I really feel they need my help but so this is their country and there is nothing I can do about it." Tulani said, "I can't believe it", he trained in Cape Town himself. He said, "You mean you have an agreement, a contract like that?" I said, "Yes, that's the way it is." I had this big argument with Tulani. He said, "Come on, come on, it's not that, it can't be real, those are just the things which are on paper. Just come out and come and help these people." I said, "I will not. I wish I could but I will not. In fact they have made the laws and the laws are there and there is nothing I can do about that. They also don't object to these laws so that's the way it is." Tulani insisted and I was adamant I wasn't going to come out. Anyway finally he touched my heart. He said, you know he went back again and then he came back and he said to me, "You know I was standing there. One of them was turning white. I'm not a doctor but I can see that the chap is expiring, he is really, you can't just sit here and not go and offer to do something." I said, "At any rate in a crowd like that I don't just know what I can do", because the people who were surrounding were white and I said to myself that there's a big crowd there and maybe even when I get there they might even insult me and may even assault me and I don't have too much also in the bag that can help the situation. So I said, "Well let me come", so I go out with him and as we were nearing the crowd they looked at us and I said, "You see, Tulani. You just follow me, I'll walk in front of you." Then he came and he said, "Oh, no I'm bringing a doctor, she's a doctor." Honestly, I tell you Padraig, I wanted to go back and sit in my car. I mean I felt that why should I be in this, I just wanted to go back. So I felt that they could attack me, I felt insulted and I felt that their attitude, their manner in what they were saying, I didn't need to put up with it. Suddenly Tulani said,, "Come" I got there and I explained to them and I did what I could. Thank God the ambulance in the meantime arrived when I had just begun to do the little bit that I could do. So there you are, that was ...

POM     Maybe that's a good place to stop for today.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.