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Professor Thandinkosi Madiba, Specialist Surgeon
 and Head of UKZN’s Department of Surgery
(centre), congratulates Hamilton Naki Scholars:
Dr Mushi Matjila, Dr Carol Hlela, Dr Rudzani
Moloiwa and Dr Bonga Chiliza after they presented
at the symposium.

December 03, 2012 was a day marking not only the significant commemoration of the world’s first heart transplant – conducted Cape Town, South Africa in 1967 – but also the life and times of the self-taught medical assistant, Mr Hamilton Naki, whose rare skills and excellence gave birth to Netcare’s Hamilton Naki Clinical Symposium and Awards Dinner which was held in Durban this year.

Attended by members of the Naki family, the dinner paid tribute to Naki who advanced from being a gardener to becoming a principal surgical assistant at to the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) research laboratory under Professor Robert Goetz’s surgical research, and chosen by Dr Christiaan Barnard to assist with research and experimental work preceding and following the historic heart transplant.

The scholarship was introduced in 2007 because of the shortage of qualified academic leaders in South African medical schools, especially for academic clinicians from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. To this end, the scholarship named after Naki who HAD walked the same path.

Professor Bongani Mayosi, UKZN alumnus and Head of UCT’s Department of Medicine, said the heart transplant captured the imagination of the world than any other event. ‘It put the country in the magical map of the world.’  Mayosi challenged Hamilton Naki scholars to do even greater things than the transplant.

Recipients of the scholarship dating from its inception in 2007 were Drs Carol Hlela, Bonga Chiliza, Mushi Matjila, Deliwe Ngwezi and Rudzani Moloiwa – all alumni of UKZN.

The 2012 recipients of the scholarship were Dr Liesl Zuhlke and Dr Itumeleng Taunyene who were honoured at the dinner.

One of Zuhlke’s on-going research projects focussed on rheumatic heart disease – the most dreaded complication of rheumatic fever which causes heart valve damage that occurs after an episode.

Zuhlke said early detection of the disease was critical and in her study 3000 school children between the ages of 5 and 20 had already been screened. In another study where Zuhlke was investigating disease progression and conducted in 26 sites of Africa, the Middle East and India, 3700 patients enrolled.

Taunyene, on the other hand, is a cardiothoracic surgeon from UCT who developed a strong interest in heart surgery from his second year training as a medical doctor. He said his research interests were in neurological reverse following cardiac arrest. Taunyene acknowledged his preceding recipients of the scholarship whom he said had set a standard of excellence they would have to work hard to parallel.

A moving keynote address was delivered by Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, Vice-Chancellor of UKZN, who said the time had come for South Africa to recognise talent and make sure none of it goes un-nurtured.

Makgoba said, like Naki, many unsung heroes existed but were not presented with the relevant opportunities to hone their skills into something that could change the world as we know it. He said Naki’s talent would take registrars years to perfect.

‘As academics we are given a very difficult task of developing talented people.’ He made reference to the Lancet paper of 05 September 2009 which quoted Naki saying, ‘I stole with my eyes’, in response to how he came to master his surgical craft.

‘How many Hamilton Nakis are there in South Africa and indeed the world? We are all Harbouring and Hamilton somewhere in our institution and we are doing nothing about it.’

Makgoba said Naki’s were poignant words which should have read, ‘I stole with my eyes and heart ‘, as his passion came from the heart, ‘although his contribution to surgery was virtually unknown and unrecognised’.

‘I think we all know too well the cruelty of apartheid and I think we all know too well how to blame apartheid for things could improve ourselves.’

Makgoba said, ‘If you have talent in South Africa you must hide your head between your legs and go unnoticed’; arguing that the country needed to treat talent differently.

He also said South Africans were very shy of implementing things. ‘As South Africans we like to debate but when it comes to implementing things we run away.’

Through the scholarship, Netcare was lauded for already making great strides towards producing academics of a high calibre who indeed demonstrated a capacity and commitment to make a difference to academic healthcare in the country.

While Dr Hlela is a Cape Town-based dermatologist who completed her PhD in immunology at the University of Oxford’s, Green Templeton College, United Kingdom, Dr Chiliza is finalising his doctoral thesis in psychiatry at Stellenbosch University. Dr Mushi Matjila continues with his doctorate in obstetrics at UCT and Dr Ngwezi is abroad conducting her doctoral research in paediatric cardiology in Canada.

Dr Rudzani Moloiwa’s is a paediatric doctoral study is on the epidemiology of pertussis – the highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing – commonly known as whooping cough.