Change the world


Developing healthcare professionals with a heart for the community and its healthcare needs, and an opportunity for urban renewal in Gqeberha’s Missionvale area and surrounds are some of the major spin-offs of the country's newest medical school, based at Nelson Mandela University.

The Mandela University Medical School, launched yesterday (30 November 2021) at its home on the institution’s Missionvale Campus, has been lauded as a beacon of hope for the region, province and country as the need for medical professional mounts.

Speaking at the launch event yesterday, which was also livestreamed on the University’s YouTube channel, Vice-Chancellor Prof Sibongile Muthwa said with social justice at its core, this medical school was set to change the healthcare landscape of South Africa, the Eastern Cape and its immediate communities.

“This is one of only two medical schools in our region, with our sister institution, Walter Sisulu University, having offered the sole medical programme until now to serve the vast population of the Eastern Cape Province,” said Prof Muthwa.

“Mandela University’s medical programme seeks to embrace a comprehensive primary healthcare approach underpinned by the pillars of disease prevention, namely, health promotion, treatment, and rehabilitative medicine.

“We believe in an integrated, interprofessional approach to healthcare that addresses the underlying social determinants of health, such as access to decent housing, education and social services. 

“Our community-based ethos aims to cultivate socially conscious medical doctors who can compete globally, but who also have a deep passion to change the lives of vulnerable, underserviced communities in our country.”

The University’s medical school is intentionally located in the disadvantaged Missionvale area, where it is effectively close to the Dora Nginza and Livingstone hospitals – which serve as training grounds for health sciences students – and within a community needing the human resources that will be produced.

Also intended with the location in Missionvale are the urban renewal opportunities that come with this massive project and regeneration for the benefit of the surrounding communities.

“We are actively pursuing partnerships with local government, business, other educational institutions, and public and private health service providers to promote access to comprehensive health services as part of an integrated health and education innovation precinct,” said Prof Muthwa.

“We believe that the best approach to medical education and healthcare service delivery is one that harnesses the wisdom and agency of our communities to advance preventive approaches.”

Echoing this sentiment, Higher Education, Science and Innovation minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, who delivered the keynote address, said the establishment of this medical school in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro was also a boost to the local economy.

“I would like to commend the University for the continued role that it plays in this region, through its excellent teaching and learning, research and community engagement programmes,” said Dr Nzimande.

“In addition to these benefits, the establishment of the school promotes local economic development within the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, which is South Africa’s fifth largest metro.”

The University’s medical school was largely welcomed as a vehicle to develop much-needed healthcare professionals, who would learn and ultimately practice medicine in a setting that is representative of the broader South African context of deep inequalities.

“As a country and a people we should be proud that we are launching this excellent teaching and learning facility dedicated for the training of future health professionals,” Dr Nzimande said.

“The Mandela University medical school aims to position health education to be more responsive to our country’s health needs, by widening access to health care programmes. The school will generally add to the much-needed health professionals that our country so needs in order to improve our health system as a country.”

Health minister, Dr Joe Paahla, who addressed launch attendees via video link, described the establishment of a medical school in Gqeberha as a boost for public healthcare, particularly due to its location.

“This will conveniently enable students to undergo [practical training] and in-service training in both urban and peri-urban environments in district hospitals, as part of their academic progress. It will eliminate the current challenge we’re having with students who are reluctant to accept posts in rural and township hospitals and other health facilities for internship and community service to complete their academic programme, simply because they studied and lived in the cities,” said Dr Phaahla.

“We have seen through our community service and intensive programme that there are still some medical students who aspire to the limited specialisation which will not always address the primary challenges of poor communities.”

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane and Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth expressed their gratitude and pride at having a second medical school in the province, which would help nurture and retain qualified medical professionals in the largely rural province.

“For too long Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in Mthatha was the only institution of higher learning that offered medical studies in our province,” said MEC Meth.

“This meant that many qualifying students from the Eastern Cape were competing for the available place at WSU and because a university can only accept a certain number of applicants, some of our aspirant medical professionals would have to leave the province to study in other provinces.

“After years of hard work, we are happy that we now have two medical schools in the province.”

Messages of support for the University’s medical school were received from various parts of the world, all praising this milestone as a giant leap for humanity, and honouring the immense role played by the late Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Lungile Pepeta, who succumbed to COVID-19 last year.

The University’s Student Representative Council (SRC) president, Pontsho Hlongwane, said the launch was no ordinary event, but also the “commemoration of the life of a giant from Bizana, Professor Lungile Pepeta”.

“As it was correctly observed by the Commandante of Cuba and the first Secretary of the Communist Party, Fidel Castro, that the death of a fighter is not a reason to mourn, as revolutionaries of every era have believed, that no true man, no true revolutionary dies in vain.

“Prof Pepeta wanted to establish children’s hospital for the Eastern Cape, staffed by an army of hand-picked specialists. That is why, as student activists, we vowed to protect his legacy.”

Every speaker, including Chancellor Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and Chair of Council Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill, praised and honoured the instrumental role that Prof Pepeta played in the realisation of a dream to establish a medical school in Gqeberha – an idea mooted as far back as 1946.

The jovial Prof Pepeta, who was a paediatric cardiologist, was known for his big heart for the community and its primary healthcare needs, working hard to contribute to the eradication of inequality in health provision.

The Mandela University Medical School, anchored in the institutional resolve towards social justice, aims to build on this formidable legacy.

Its first cohort of 50 medical students, chosen from more than 5 500 applications, are presently writing their first final exams, online. They will be joined by 80 first year students next year.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777