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South Africans mourn Indian pioneer's death

South Africans mourn Indian pioneer's death

Author: Fakir Hassen, Indo-Asian News Service
Publication: Yahoo News
Date: December 24, 2002
URL: http://in.news.yahoo.com/021224/43/1zg61.html

Around 1,000 mourners, including the national health minister, paid their last respects here to a pioneering South African Indian doctor who served as a role model to hundreds of students.

Professor Soromini Kallichurum, who died at the age of 71, was the first woman and the first black person to become the dean of the faculty of the Natal Medical School where she herself qualified as a doctor in 1957.

"In fact, she was the first woman to be appointed head of a clinical department at any medical school in South Africa," said Ronnie Green-Thompson, superintendent-general of the health ministry in KwaZulu Natal province.

"She broke down barriers in many areas that were considered to be the stronghold of men and did such a great job that she was appointed for a second term."

Kallichurum was also the first woman to serve as a member of the Medical Research Council, and after the advent of democracy, became the first president of the Health Professions Council of South Africa that succeeded the former white-dominated regulatory body for the fraternity.

For many students who passed through the hands of the internationally respected pathologist, Kallichurum will be remembered for her stern yet motherly approach.

Known to many as "The Granite Woman" because of her often unemotional approach to problems, many former students attended her funeral service.

One of them, now a neurosurgeon here, spoke of her "fearless protection" of students who took up the struggle against racial discrimination at the university, which was forced by apartheid legislation to take in a limited number of Indian students on a quota system.

This resulted in many not being able to fulfil their dreams of becoming doctors, even when they had good grades in their final year at school.

"She even took on the university authorities when they tried to act against students, if she was convinced that the students were right. There was no compromising with Kallichurum when it came to ethical behaviour."

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