Netcare is delighted that the proposal it submitted to the City of Cape Town that Salazar Plein, on Cape Town’s foreshore, be renamed the Hamilton Naki Square in memory of Hamilton Naki, is under consideration. Netcare has also recognised Hamilton Naki and his contribution to the advancement of medicine through an exhibition on the 12th floor in the adjacent Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.
“Without having had any formal training, Hamilton Naki distinguished himself in assisting with the development of the advanced surgical techniques that would inform the world’s first human heart transplant,” says Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare.
“The exclusionary racial policies of apartheid, however, meant that he was denied the chance to become a surgeon and fulfil his potential in the field of medicine or to be appropriately recognised for his work.”
It was for this reason Netcare submitted a motivation to the City of Cape Town for the renaming of the public space adjacent to the new Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. The Square bears the name of António de Oliveira Salazar, a former prime minister of Portugal whose style of governance is understood to have resonated with the apartheid government at the time.
“We believe that this space would better reflect Cape Town’s past, present and future if it was named after this prominent South African who for so long was marginalised, yet played an immensely valuable role in the world’s first successful human heart transplant,” Dr Friedland explains.
Hamilton Naki initially worked as a gardener at Groote Schuur Hospital but his inquiring mind and the initiative he showed brought him to the attention of Dr Robert Goetz of the University of Cape Town’s Medical Faculty. Soon he was working in the animal laboratory, assisting Dr Goetz with anaesthetising animals for experimental procedures, which were an integral step towards perfecting lifesaving procedures for human patients.
Naki showed great care for the animals, and soon proved his affinity for the delicate work required of a surgical laboratory assistant. Despite the considerable promise he showed, Naki was not able to train as a doctor. Professor Barnard has been quoted as saying: “If Hamilton had had the opportunity to study, he would probably have become a brilliant surgeon.”
As a demonstrator in Professor Barnard’s surgical laboratory, Naki assisted by training scores of surgeons who came from around the world to learn from the techniques pioneered in the renowned heart transplant unit.
“The story of Hamilton Naki is not unique. It is the story of hundreds of thousands of black South Africans denied the right to study or further their talents due to the abhorrent system of apartheid. While South Africa has moved on from this past, it has left deep wounds that continue to echo through our socio-economic reality today.
“We believe that the renaming of this prominent public space on the Cape Town foreshore would serve as an apt reminder of the consequences of prejudice and exclusion, while representing freedom and hope for the future. We hope that the people and the City of Cape Town favourably consider dedicating this square to the memory of Hamilton Naki,” Dr Friedland observes.
Netcare also recognised Hamilton Naki when it established the Hamilton Naki Clinical Scholarship in 2007, in conjunction with the medical schools of South African universities. This was done under the auspices of the Physician Partnerships Trust, which forms part of Netcare’s Health Partners for Life programme. The scholarship was the brainchild of the Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Cape Town (UCT), Professor Bongani Mayosi.
The scholarship has already been awarded to 13 medical specialists from disadvantaged communities to undertake further study and research in order to contribute to the advancement of medicine not only in South Africa but also internationally.
“We can never undo the injustices of the past that denied Hamilton Naki and other promising individuals their rightful place in the medical fraternity. However, in honouring Naki’s legacy publicly, we can ensure that their hard work and achievements are remembered.” Dr Friedland concluded.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville, or Pieter Rossouw
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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