An emotional Thembinkosi Naki, son of Hamilton Naki, who is often reported to have been part of the team that performed the world’s first heart transplant surgery in 1967, expressed his sincere gratitude to the City of Cape Town for naming the newly built flats in Langa after his father.
Speaking at the naming event, on Thursday July 28, at Langa sports complex hall, Mr Naki accused the government of having failed to recognise his father’s medical achievements.
Talking about his father, he said Hamilton was first called into the lab in 1954 by professor of surgical research, Robert Goetz, during a surgical procedure on a giraffe, to assist him. Little did he know that he would later become a lab assistant.
His father then worked alongside Dr Goetz doing research on animals at the University of Cape Town ( UCT), despite the fact that he never had any formal education. Mr Naki said his father’s sharp observant skills and determination paved the way for him to learn how to perform surgical procedures.
“My father was the first black person to be allowed into the lab.”
Despite numerous claims that Mr Naki had assisted Dr Christiaan Barnard with – or had himself perfomed – the worl’s first human to human transplant in 1967, this has been widely disputed.
Mr Naki said his father had worked at UCT for 42 years in the medical science faculty, but when he retired he walked out with a gardener’s pension – far less than that of a lab assistant. He said because of apartheid laws, his father could not take credit for his work, but he said it was a sad reality that even though the country got its freedom in 1994, the government still failed to properly honour his legacy and right the wrongs of the past. He said his father did not only know how to transplant hearts, but also mastered kidney surgeries and stitching.
Mr Naki said after his father retired, Dr Barnard would often call him to ask for help on how to perform certain medical surgeries.
In 2002, Mr Naki was honoured by former president Thabo Mbeki who bestowed on him the Order of Mapungubwe. He said years later his father received an honorary Master’s degree in medical science from the former chancellor of UCT, Graca Machel, and he was over the moon with joy. Naki was born in 1930 and moved to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape at the tender age of 14 . He was hired to work as a gardener at UCT’s tennis courts.
“We are saddened that there is not even a single institution in the country that is named after our father. At least there should have been a clinic or school named Hamilton. Even though this is a little recognition we do appreciate it. Our father died in 2005 and he had five children and he was buried in the Eastern Cape,” he said.
Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Benedicta van Minnen,said the rental units, on the corner of Bhunga Avenue and Ndabeni Street, had been built as part of the City’s hostel transformation programme in Langa.
She said to date, 463 families have benefited from this redress programme and moved into their homes in December 2015.
Ms Van Minnen said the residents previously lived in New Flats, Special Quarters hostels and in the Siyahlala informal settlements. “We want to salute the late Hamilton Naki for his relentless determination,” she said.
“He did not allow his circumstances to deter him from following passion and purpose. We trust that the name ‘Hamilton Naki’ will remind all of us, especially the community of Langa, of his drive and that we will be inspired by his story to follow our dreams, regardless of the many challenges life brings. Let us as the government and community continue to work together to make this a better City for all,” she said.
Langa resident, Simon Nkombi, 51, said he was happy that the government was recognising the indelible mark left by Hamilton Naki even though it was long overdue. He said the recognition showed that black people were intellectual people but had been suppressed during the apartheid era.
“Hamilton will also rest in peace knowing that he was appreciated for his work and I want to commend the City of Cape Town for acknowledging Hamilton and I challenge the government to name a clinic or school after this legend,” he said.