SA Medical Association head chopped:

SA Medical Association head chopped:
Nosimilo Ndlovu talks to Kgosi Letlape about his abrupt resignation as head of South Africa’s professional body for medical practitioners.

Kgosi Letlape’s opposition to private medical insurance is probably one of the factors behind a vote of no confidence that led the outspoken doctor to resign as head of the SA Medical Association (Sama) last Friday.

Letlape, the first black ophthalmologist in South Africa and former president of the World Medical Association, had led Sama since 2001.

He was well known for his strong stance against medical schemes. During the closing of the Sama conference last year, he announced that he had given up his medical scheme membership and said that doctors and members of Parliament should do the same. A Sama member who asked to remain anonymous said this position had led to members losing faith that he could unite and represent all doctors fairly.

“His comments obviously threatened the unity of Sama. Doctors working in the private sectors and specialists that run their own private practice earn most of their income through medical schemes. Letlape could no longer represent their views while using the association’s platform to speak against private practice. If he did not leave, a large number of the membership was going to,” said the Sama board member. He said that at least three senior members of the association, all from the private sector, had stepped down over the past two months.

Letlape told the Mail & Guardian that he is not anti private practice; he is anti parliamentary legislation that divides South Africans from the “haves and have knots”. Parliament divides us as a people by passing legislation that says those that can afford to can take up medical schemes and receive private healthcare, and those that cannot must use public healthcare. Government must fulfill its constitutional role and provide better and equal healthcare for all – and used by all South Africans, including its MPs.”

Letlape said he does not believe he was guilty of dividing Sama, adding that he had done his best to uphold Sama’s motto, Uniting doctors for the health of the nation. “I did my best to leave the association better than I found it. When I took over Sama it was bankrupt; now it has more than R40-m. Members felt horrible. Now I leave members with a sense of pride and value.”

Letlape said had already told members that he would finish his term this year and move on to other things. “Finishing earlier is no big issue,” he said. “The time to go has come. I will continue to be a member of Sama and active in health matters.”

Sama member Ismail Moosa, a general practitioner from Johannesburg said, “I believe he [Letlape] was a good leader and did a lot to unite doctors in South Africa, which was needed nine years ago when he came in.” Moosa said it was refreshing to have a leader who was not linked to corruption or power battles. He added, “His willingness to step down so the association does not break apart shows he was not a power hungry leader who was willing to keep his position even if it killed the association.”

Letlape said it is the right and responsibility of members that elected him to say thank you and ask him to move on once they no longer felt he represented their views. “I say thank you to them too; an appointment to lead Sama is second to nothing. If it has come to the point where I no longer fulfill a uniting role and I threaten the unity of SAMA, then I need to make room for the association to continue on the path that its members agree on.”

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