February 27 (2017) Monday

Today in 1996, Health Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma attended a ceremony to welcome 96 medical doctors from Cuba.

The government realised there was a shortage of medical practitioners in rural areas where primary health care was sensitive. After consultations, a three years' contract was signed between the two countries, regulating the temporary import of Cuban medical practitioners to relieve the situation. One of the main drawcards of Cuba's approach is its achievement in primary healthcare and proactive disease prevention in a country with a large rural population. The World Health Organisation estimated that Africa had 25% of the world’s disease burden but only 1.3% of its healthcare professionals. Compounding this problem is an annual emigration of about 20 000 African doctors and nurses who leave the continent for greener pastures.

ALSO TODAY IN HISTORY

  • In 1881, the battle at Majuba Hill near Volksrust masrked the main battle of the First Boer War. It was a resounding victory for the Boers. Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley occupied the summit of the hill on the night of 26-27 February 1881. The Boers believed he might have been attempting to outflank their positions at Laing's Nek. The bulk of the 405 British soldiers occupying the hill were 171 men of the 58th Regiment with 141 men of the 92nd (Gordon) Highlanders, and a small naval brigade from HMS Dido. General Colley had brought no artillery up to the summit, nor did he order his men to dig in, expecting that the Boers would retreat when they saw their position on the Nek was untenable. However, the Boers formed storming parties to attack the hill. They were led by Nicolas Smit, from an assortment of volunteers from various commandos, totalling at least 450 men.
  • In 1956, the SA Amendment Act did away with the entrenchment clauses protecting the Cape coloured voters.
  • In 1973 the Schlebusch Commission Report resulted in the banning of eight National Union of South African Students (Nusas) leaders and ex-Nusas leaders who were said to be responsible for radical tendencies within the organisation. As a result of the report, those banned were Neville Curtis, Clive Keegan, Paul Pretorius, Sheila Lapinsky, Rick Turner (a lecturer), Paula Ensor, Chris Wood, and Philip Le Roux. Nusas, a white student organisation, served an important role in unifying and voicing student protests against laws decreed to limit the freedoms of black students at mainly English-medium universities. As a student organisation, Nusas was prohibited from accepting affiliation from black student bodies.
  • In 1980 the first elections were held after a civil war between ZANU-PF and Rhodesian government forces, supported by the South African ANC and South African government respectively. This followed the Lancaster agreement, and gave the black majority full voting powers in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
  • In 1990 Nelson Mandela started a 17-day foreign visit, his first since 1962. Subsequent to his release from prison on 11 February 1990, after 27 years in jail, he had been following a gruelling schedule of rallies, meetings and interviews. His first foreign destination was the headquarters of the ANC in Lusaka, Zambia, where he met exiled ANC Executive Committee, leaders of the Frontline states, and Commonwealth representatives.

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Robert Sobukwe

Robert Sobukwe, politician, activist and first president of the Pan Africanist Congress, died on 27 February 1978 at the age of 54.

Sobukwe died of lung complications after having been hospitalised in 1977. His medical doctors requested that he should be granted freedom of movement on humanitarian grounds, as he was banned to Galeshewe Township, Kimberley, but authorities turned it down. PAC members now celebrate the day as Sobukwe day. He was born in Graaff-Reinet in the Cape on December 5, 1924. His father was a farm worker and his mother had no formal education. Sobukwe won a scholarship to the Methodist boarding school at Healdtown in the Eastern Cape, and later enrolled at Fort Hare University. It was here that he joined the ANC Youth League in 1948. The organisation was established on campus by Godfrey Pitje, who later became its president. In 1949, Sobukwe was elected president of the Fort Hare Students' Representative Council, where he proved himself to be a good orator. In 1950, Sobukwe was appointed as a teacher at a high school in Standerton, a position he lost when he spoke out in favour of the Defiance Campaign in 1952. He was later reinstated. During this period he was not directly involved with mainstream ANC activities, but still held the position of secretary of the organization’s branch in Standerton. In 1954, after moving to Johannesburg, Sobukwe became a lecturer of African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He edited The Africanist and soon began to criticise the ANC for allowing itself to be dominated by what he termed “liberal-left-multi-racialists”. The “Prof”, as his friends called him, was a charismatic speaker, and in 1958 he helped initiate a breakaway from the ANC, resulting in the birth of the Pan Africanist Congress. On March 21, 1960, at the launch of the PAC anti-pass campaign, he resigned as a teacher. He made arrangements for the safety of his family and left his home in Molofo. He intended to give himself up for arrest at the Orlando police station in the hope that his actions would inspire others. On the 8km walk to the police station, small groups of men joined him from neighbouring areas like Phefeni, Dube and Orlando West. As the small crowd approached the station most of them, including Sobukwe, were arrested. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Then Parliament enacted a General Law Amendment Act, which empowered the Minister of Justice to prolong the detention of any political prisoner indefinitely. Subsequently, he was moved to Robben Island, staying for an additional six years. After his release in 1969, Sobukwe joined his family in Kimberley but remained under 12-hour house arrest. He was also restricted from any political activity as a result of a banning order imposed on the PAC. During his incarceration Sobukwe obtained an Honours Degree in Economics from the University of London, and began studying Law. He completed his articles in Kimberley, and established his own law firm in 1975. Although he was offered several teaching posts at American universities, he was prevented from going overseas by the government. Sobukwe died on February 27, 1978, of lung complications after having been hospitalised in 1977. His medical doctors requested that he should be granted freedom of movement on humanitarian grounds, as he was banned to Galeshewe Township, Kimberley, but the authorities turned it down. PAC members now celebrate the day as Sobukwe day.