South Africa’s current ruling African National Congress (ANC) government inherited a relatively well-developed healthcare system that was steeped in institutionalised racism. The apartheid era created the conditions for poor health and provided poor healthcare for black South Africans. However, little research has been done on the history of health and healthcare provision for the South Africans who were exiled by the National Party in 1960 and more specifically on the medical sector developed by the ANC for exiles in civilian settlements and military camps based in newly independent, sympathetic nation-states in southern Africa. The exiled South Africans were affected by the legacy of colonialism, exposed to the repression of apartheid and were subject to the first efforts of the ANC’s medical sector and (eventual) Health Department while they were in exile. Indeed, many health professionals who filled leadership positions in the post-apartheid Department of Health were trained in exile and had been a part of the medical sector in the liberation struggle during some portion of the thirty-year period that the ANC was in exile. This medical sector formed in exile is the subject of this dissertation.
The history of the ANC’s medical sector in exile sheds new light on the importance of health to the international legitimacy of the ANC but also to the individuals whose lives were at risk in exile. Moreover, it begins to show that the Department of Health was also a product of apartheid in the sense that it emerged as a political response to the inequalities in South Africa and was forced to contend with exiles that had been damaged by the South African system. Attempts to understand the post-apartheid National Department of Health in South Africa must first contend with this history of health and healthcare in exile.