Once home to Nelson Mandela, Soweto was at the forefront of South Africa‘s anti-apartheid struggle. The township, historically known as a site of defiance against racist rule, was also a place where much of Johannesburg’s poor, black, urban population was forced to live.
Since the end of apartheid more than 25 years ago, Soweto has grown and developed. Yet parts remain dangerous and severely disadvantaged.
In the middle of Soweto, the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital – known locally as “Bara” – is one of the largest and busiest hospitals in the southern hemisphere, and a place where many of Johannesburg’s poor go to access healthcare.
While nearly 70 percent of all Bara’s admissions are emergencies – many of them gunshot wounds – doctors also treat other regular ailments and complicated medical cases, from critical care to paediatrics to ophthalmology.
Ten years later, the plight of your average person in the poor community in South Africa is no better. Perhaps even a little worse than what it was. This is a great motivator for us to keep giving back to these communities and do our little bit to improve their lives.
In 2009, Al Jazeera followed Bara’s medical teams working against the odds to save lives and help restore health to a community with little means of affording private care.
In the ophthalmology department – called St John’s Eye Hospital – we met residents working long hours, helping patients in consultation rooms, operating theatres, and even on the benches of a waiting area.
Today, St John’s doctors treat approximately 50,000 patients a year and continue to face a daunting workload with insufficient resources.
A decade ago, this film introduced us to Dr Rob Daniel, who was completing the last weeks of a four-year residency; he called working at Bara “a gold mine of experience”.
“We deal with people on a very personal basis, which is fundamentally built on trust,” Daniel said at the time. “The comfort that a patient feels by us caring for them, that’s what gives us a lot of our job satisfaction.”
In 2019, Rewind returned to Soweto and caught up with Daniel, who now runs a successful private practice, but also continues to serve less-privileged communities.
Through a charity he set up called Bonani – which means “let us all see” in South Africa’s Zulu language – Daniel is able to tap into technological advancements in his field and use newer, portable equipment to treat hundreds more patients anywhere – not just in a clinic.
He credits his time at Bara for inspiring him to continue serving the community.
“I think spending four years serving a very poor population imprinted the experience onto me,” he says.
“Ten years later, the plight of your average person in the poor community in South Africa is no better. Perhaps even a little worse than what it was. This is a great motivator for us to keep giving back to these communities and do our little bit to improve their lives.”