“The Politics of Memory and Memory of Politics”: Remembering and Silencing in Written and Oral Narratives about the University of Natal’s Medical School
The first three chapters of my dissertation focus on some of the complicated background history that led to the establishment of the first racially segregated medical school for black – African, Indian and Coloured – students in Durban, South Africa in 1951. Viewed as a “necessary evil” by apartheid ideologues, who recognised the urgent need by the 1940s and 1950s to train black doctors “to serve their own racial communities” in South Africa, this medical school was also viewed by them as a potential political threat. Unusual for its time, this school brought many people of different races, classes and genders into closer contact with one another, as they lived and studied together as students for a number of years. It was thus a site of keen interest to, and constant intervention by, the apartheid state.
Because of the school’s almost complete reliance on apartheid state subsidies for its operational costs, and its anomalous attachment to the historically “white” University of Natal, the circumstances of its creation ensured that its black medical students experienced many humiliating apartheid racial discriminations and inequalities within its medical teaching environment, its King Edward VIII teaching hospital, and it’s Alan Taylor Residence. One African doctor argued: “One’s memories of the medical school are full of ambivalence and
contradiction.”1 For Dr. Taole Mokoena and others, studying at the Durban medical school was both a hurtful and unequal racially discriminatory experience, but also offered them the rare opportunity to study to obtain a degree in a prestigious profession that would provide them with a more financially secure future in apartheid South Africa.