With Cedrick Ngalande, PhD
Why has South Africa the first country to perform human to human heart transplant been reduced to begging for Coronavirus Vaccines?
On December 3, 1967, a group of doctors, nurses and technicians led by Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first ever human to human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. The news of this marvelous achievement spread around the world like wildfire. The New York Times edition of the next day, December 4, memorialized this event perfectly with a front-page headline, “Heart Transplant Keeps Man Alive in South Africa; Heart Transplanted From a Dead Woman and Started by Shock Is Keeping Man Alive in South Africa”
The marvelous achievement by Dr Barbard’s team was not a mistake, neither was it very unique in South Africa. At the time, the South African government had invested heavily in scientific research and technological infrastructure. This investment resulted in world class research laboratories and scientists. In the following years, South Africa would go on to manufacture world class cars, build a world class university education, make many discoveries in science and technology – and yes even toyed around with the idea of nuclear weapons.
That was 54 years ago!
Last year, as the US and other European countries raced to develop coronavirus vaccines, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa expressed fear that his country and Africa would not be given access to vaccines that were being developed by advanced nations. He demanded that any COVID-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed, and free for all. All science must be shared between governments. Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn, he said. He did not want South Africans to be left out; after all, it was not their fault that they grew up in that neighborhood of the world where vaccines were not being developed.
What an irony! The president of a country that pioneered human-to-human heart transplant is now reduced to begging western nations to remember “the poor folks down here who do not have the knowhow to develop their own vaccines”. In 1967, South Africa’s scientific infrastructure was so advanced that it was among the nations counted upon to develop a vaccine in any possible future pandemic.Cedrick Ngalande, PhD
Unfortunately, between 1967 and 2021 something went terribly wrong in South Africa. Today, those once world class laboratories are losing value; the once world class universities are falling far and far behind world standards; formerly powerful institutions are no longer delivering; the once mighty South African Airways is in bankruptcy. So, you ask what went wrong? The answer is simple: Affirmative action happened, BEE happened, gender and racial equity happened. Highly technical institutions that were once led by highly technical professionals are now headed by people some of whom would not even have qualified for middle management position 54 years ago; all this done in the name of workplace diversity and leveling of the playing field.
South Africa took these radical affirmative action initiatives with no scientific rationale to back them. Among the numerous studies conducted on diversity none have shown that affirmative action initiatives as implemented by the South African government helps in any way. In 2004, social researchers Karen Jehn, Gregory Northcraft and Margaret Neale published in the Administrative Science Quarterly a paper titled, “Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict and Performance in Workgroups”. Their study found that the only form of diversity that improved efficiency or output in a workplace was diversity in/of thought. Social diversity (race, tribe, gender) and values diversity did not improve performance. In fact, this work collaborated another earlier study by Katherine Williams and Charles O’Reilly, “Demography and Diversity in Organizations: A Review of 40 Years of Research”, published in Research in Organizational Behavior (1998). Williams and O’Reilly observed that not only does too much emphasis on diversity fail to improve performance and creativity, but it also actually reduces creativity.
Why is this discussion important? Because South Africans, having implemented crippling affirmative action in their own country, have now turned their attention to the SADC region and Africa. They are now pushing the so-called Gender 50/50 initiative. They want SADC countries to adopt Gender 50/50 as a core principle of the region. What this means is that for every 2 employees in a company or government, one should be a man and the other a woman. Also, if a director of an organization is a man, the deputy director must be a woman, and vice versa. Keep in mind that nowhere in history do you find an example of a once poor nation that became wealthy by adopting affirmative action principles; none, not one.
By the way, remember Dr Bernard the South African surgeon who performed the first transplant the human heart? Among the people he credited for his great achievement was Hamilton Naki, a 41 years-old young man. Hamilton was a black man born in Ngcingwane, Dutywa, Transkei, South Africa. He was not a physician, just a laboratory assistant to Dr Barnard. He, however, was highly recognized for “his surgical skills and for his ability to teach medical students and physicians such skills despite not having received a formal medical education, and also for his leading role in organ transplant research on animals in that laboratory”.
Hamilton Naki, a black South African who lived at the peak of apartheid, needed no affirmative action to make his outstanding contribution to the world. Fifty-four years ago.
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