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Surgeon says join Wits to see how transformation is done

- Wits University

Dr Thifheli Luvhengo told Faculty of Health Sciences graduates that they are the key to the future and that they are the product of the people around them.

Luvhengo is a lecturer and Clinical Head of the Department of Surgery at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. He delivered the keynote address at the Faculty of Health Sciences graduation ceremony on July 4, 2018.

Two countries in one – in SA and Wits

Luvhengo, a “product of the Salvation Army”, quipped that he has lived in “four countries”: He was born in South Africa, relocated to the Republic of Venda, lived in the South Africa of National Unity, and resides now in post-apartheid South Africa.

South Africa remains “two countries in one”, he says, and there is evidence of similar disparities in higher education and in hospitals. He cited affluent Sandton and its neighbour, Alexandra Township as an example and decried the lack of neurosurgeons in Limpopo and the astonishing injustice of infant mortality from diarrhoea.

Luvhengo alluded to the auspicious date of these graduates’ celebration – the month and year of Nelson Mandela’s 100th. “But the past decade almost destroyed South Africa,” he said. Fear and anger had continued to sow division and destruction, and these were a further manifestation of two countries in one.

“Use your qualifications to be ambassadors for humanity,” Luvhengo urged graduates.

Alluding to the recent crisis in hospitals in Gauteng and North West Province, during which services were discontinued and medical facilities trashed, Luvhengo said that no amount of anger ever justifies denying access to healthcare.

“South Africa is a great country. It needs you. And if you don’t know where to start, join us [at Wits] to show the community how transformation is done,” he said.

Transforming Faculty

The Faculty of Health Sciences came under fire in December 2017 when it was accused of racism. Luvhengo, who serves on the Transformation Committee, said, “That stain has been corrected”.

FHS accepted that discrimination by race and gender was a reality for some in the FHS community – evidenced by high failure rates amongst Black students – as was sexual harassment and the criteria for promotion within Faculty.

“[Dean of the Faculty] Professor Martin Veller has moved us forward,” said Luvhengo and mentioned several strategies FHS has adopted to advance transformation and reconciliation. One such strategy is the simple act of greeting one’s colleagues – as Luvhengo had invited graduates to do before he began his talk.

Other strategies include running diversity workshops, leveraging the Office of Student Support, driving initiatives from the level of Heads of Departments, and equalising training platforms. Personal development and succession plans to advance the professoriate over five years were now in place.

“We’re growing our own timber,” said Luvhengo, adding that Wits would not realise its Vision 2022 – to be amongst the top 100 research-intensive universities in the world – without the graduating class of 2018.

He concluded that a sound relationship between the FHS, the Department of Health, and Wits was critical to advance healthcare in South Africa. He urged graduands to “receive the torch and accept Thuma mina [“send me” – President Ramaphosa’s rallying cry].

“We can’t do it without you,” he said.