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Making the cut in South Africa- a medico-political journey

by Johan Naudé , The Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007 ; Paperback (price not given ). 172 pp; ISBN 978-1-85315-755-4

If you are reading this review you presumably have an interest in urology. If you have no other interests, you need read no further. However, the more broadly educated individual who can appreciate the great importance of a similar attribute in others will derive huge pleasure and knowledge from Johan Naudé’s autobiography.

Johan does not dwell on his ancestors but it is clear that he was born into a highly intellectual family and had a father whom he idolised. At the time and in the place that he was born, a white professional man could easily have passed his whole life with all of the rewards and pleasures that came with being on the right side of ‘separate development’.

Every chapter, beginning with his ‘first blood’ in a mission hospital as a medical student, shows a man determined to fight and to destroy apartheid from within. He used his great gifts as a surgeon, a teacher, a medical politician (briefly) and as a man to support patients and doctors from the oppressed races. It might be best if young children are protected from his descriptions of some of his less enlightened colleagues – especially in the South African Medical Association!

He was a pioneer in many fields of urology. He ran the Renal Transplant unit at Groote Schuur while still a registrar. He was then head-hunted by Tygerberg to start their programme. He developed the standard management of urethral strictures appropriate for a largely rural and poor country. He rescued countless young girls from the living death of post-partum fistulae, a field which he continues to develop even in retirement.

His accounts of his professional success make fascinating reading but are never the central feature of his story. They are contributions that he felt he was making for the good of his country and his humility comes through on every page. This is particularly true of his service as Professor of Urology in Durban.

Even in retirement – and here I hope readers will forgive a pat on the back for the charitable activities of this journal – he took his knowledge and skill to an area of huge need. He spent a year, funded by the BJU Int, in Maputo establishing a modern unit of urology. I had the privilege of visiting Igor Vaz’s department in Maputo, inspired by Johan’s teaching, in 2006 and saw the superb work that Johan had done and how under stated was his own description.

This short paper back provides pearls of interest on every page. You certainly do not have to be a urologist to enjoy it; it is a joy to read as a description of a good life by a man who happens to be a doctor