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Zille's tweet has history buffs refuting dominant colonial narrative

27 March 2017 12:11 PM
Tags:
South Africa
Healthcare
colonialism
medical advancements

Historians show how so-called medical advancements brought to Africa during colonialism were not all they were cracked up to be.

Following Helen Zille's controversial tweet saying there were some redeeming features to colonialism, Eusebius McKaizer hosts a discussion that broadens the historical context of this practice and bursts the bubble of the dominant narrative.

In fact, for the first four or five centuries of colonialism, Europeans didn’t even have advanced medical care.

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, African Centre for Migration & Society

Their medical care was very rudimentary and primarily what they brought were disease and these diseases wiped out huge proportions of the populations because of lack of local immunity.

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, African Centre for Migration & Society

Predominant narratives around medical practice have over the years been used to deliberately ignore and erase existing indigenous knowledge systems which produced good health practices.

The tweet by Helen Zille sparked debate once again on what Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon says is ‘the continued liberal myths of colonisation - that Europeans brought advanced and widespread medical care to the colonies'.

Dr. Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at the University of Cape Town, explains how this narrow focus on history is as a result of past political power dynamics.

She also elaborates on how this translated into the use of European sciences to perpetuate domination over people and nations.

To speak of history in such a flat manor removes a number of things.

Dr. Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at UCT

If we think about what we define as western bio-medicine it removes the relationship between the enlightenment and the Islamic golden age.

Dr. Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at UCT

We know that in the Islamic golden age between the 8th and the 13th century there were Arabic and Islamic scholars who were well advanced in medical practice and knowledge. They had collated a lot of the classical knowledge that had been produced in the previous empires.

Dr. Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at UCT

There was an active mechanism to try and use medicine and science to prove difference because doing that would allow the perpetuation of certain types of power an privilege over other peoples.

Dr. Carla Tsampiras, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities at UCT

Speaking on the impact of forced labor migration and the poor living conditions later on during the surge toward industrialization, Wilhelm-Solomon reminds listeners that this was an active spread of disease and raised levels of epidemic disease.

He says colonisation did not set the trajectory for good healthcare.

Most of the time European medical knowledge wasn't what we consider advanced medical knowledge at all. They didn't even understand the basics of germ transmission.

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

This is very important. The issue is that these developments did not fundamentally benefit colonised populations. In fact, they often worked directly against colonised populations.

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Right from the beginning of Johannesburg's history public health scares were used to displace black populations.

Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon

Click on the link below to listen to the full interview...


27 March 2017 12:11 PM
Tags:
South Africa
Healthcare
colonialism
medical advancements