Gender, Politics and Social Medicine in South Africa, 1940 - 1959
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This thesis is a first step to a gender analysis of South Africa’s social medicine experiment of the 1940s. The research focused on the work of the Health Centres, in particular Grassy Park and Polela, which were established in South Africa between 1940 and 1959, i.e., the date when all Health Centres were either closed down or converted into ordinary outpatient clinics for the Provincial Hospitals. It is based on an examination of archival records such as the reports of the Health Centres, in, and the official records prepared by the then Department of Public Health and the Medical Officers-in-Charge of the Health Centres. In order to undertake a gender analysis, I asked two main questions: how Health Centre Practice (HCP), i.e. discourse and work of the Health Centres, responded to gender roles and relations it encountered in the community where it operated and secondly, how HCP advocates constructed a particular discourse about black people’s health that effectively depoliticized health, poverty and the role of the state in the creation and maintenance of disease and poverty. There is sufficient evidence to show that the Health Centres provided a valuable service to black women at a time when the state did not prioritize black people’s health, however, the historical moment within which HCP was conceived and implemented, implies that neither the project nor its implementers could escape the dominant racist, patriarchal political values.