Joint UCT – GSH/RCWMCH statement on Diversity

30 Sep 2020 - 14:15

During the COVID crisis, each and every staff member stood firm against an invisible but hugely powerful enemy in the SARS COV-2 virus. We lost some battles, but our unity, collective intent and action helped us through this challenge. This was not the first nor the last invisible enemy our institutions will be faced with and as with Covid-19, our collective efforts are needed to overcome this. We know that there are other deeply entrenched matters that we need to face head on in order to ensure that our institution to which each one has contributed will still be thriving 100 years from now.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen and some have been involved in the difficult situation playing out in the media relating to perceptions of diversity and discrimination with regards to racism, sexism and use of inappropriate language within our institutions. We acknowledge that these issues are prevalent among many institutions globally, but more so in South Africa, given our difficult past. These are complex issues and we are committed as the leadership of the UCTFHS and GSH/RXH to working collectively with our communities to changing the experiences of our staff and students. These matters have and will continue to receive the highest attention from both the UCTFHS and the GSH/RXH leadership with the aim of resolution in a way that promotes respect, fairness and ensures just actions.

The past few weeks have led to great amounts of stress for staff directly involved, but also those peripherally involved and those not involved. Such stress then spills over into divisions, departments, the entire institution and more especially the individual’s family. Such stress can also be harmful to those concerned both in terms of their personal health, integrity and reputation. This shows us the deep interconnecting relationships that exist between our institutions and its staff and that a “hurt to one, is a hurt to all”.

Our role as the leadership is to acknowledge the feelings of all our constituencies; it is to acknowledge that there are and will continue to be matters related to diversity and inclusion that we have or will face. These matters have provided us with the opportunity to reinvigorate our work towards an equal and inclusive institution for all.

While we have made efforts to recognize our diversity in the past, recent events have made it clear to us that the task is far from complete. We call this proud country home and accept that instances and issues surrounding diversity within our institutions are constantly changing and that it is our responsibility to adapt accordingly. We recognise our obligation to review and develop our strategies against the other more insidious enemy of prejudice, inequality and exclusion. Part of this development will include an effort to review and change the culture within our organizations. This process envisions the participation of not only the leadership, but rather the contributions of and subsequent benefit to each and every one of our staff members across our two institutions. Our efforts in changing the culture within the institutions seeks to consider the feelings, perceptions and concerns of all in order to build a stronger, more unified and inclusive organization.

In addressing these issues and realizing our vision of developing a more diverse and equal culture within our institutions, it will be necessary to seek some deep introspection regarding how our staff feel about themselves and others; how they perceive being treated by others; how they feel respected as individuals, as colleagues and as professionals. In so doing, we would have the opportunity to cultivate a better understanding of our diversity, our inclusivity, and whether we feel that we are all being treated respectfully and equally. It is important for us to recognize the impact that our behaviour can have on others, and that some actions may be perceived in a manner other than which it was intended. Likewise, it is also up to us to understand these different behaviours and to raise our consciousness and awareness when such instances are encountered.

We recognize that culture relates to the way we live and this, in turn, is related to our upbringing. Our cultures are so diverse; inter-generational behaviours are diverse; the manner in which we use language is diverse; our perception of acceptance is diverse; our perception of inclusivity is diverse, among a number of other things. This diversity is something that should be celebrated instead of used as something to attack another with. We all have to try to understand from whence others come from and how to respond to any behaviour that may be perceived as disrespectful. We each have the human right to be treated fairly and respectfully, and realizing such an important human right begins with the human connections we have with one another. Much like our very diverse country, mutual respect is the cornerstone of creating an inclusive and diverse culture within our institutions.

We acknowledge that this phenomenon is prevalent globally in every organization among different cultures. Issues of diversity are prevalent and being addressed everywhere. We at UCTFHS and GSH/RXH are not immune to this either. Our country in particular has been through one of the worst systems of apartheid and despite the journey of the past 26 years, there are still feelings of inequality. We have inherited a 100-year-old system that will not change in an instant. We still have a long way to go and we are not alone in taking this journey, which is most certainly not a straight path towards our end goal, but we must be prepared for a long and winding road that may seem never-ending. We must therefore celebrate every achievement along this journey. One such celebration is our efforts in seeking solutions to address diversity, inclusivity, mutual respect and equality.

Groote Schuur Hospital, Red Cross War memorial Childrens Hospital and the Faculty of Health Sciences intend on jointly introducing a program that speaks to our diversity, inclusivity, mutual respect and equality. A joint committee will drive such a program, but we must first explore exactly what the issues are that need to be addressed in this regard. Following this process, through the use of external providers, an implementation plan will be prepared and your inputs will be taken forward. This implementation will be driven by the team represented and selected by yourselves. In order to work towards a successful program, this engagement requires your participation, your honest input and a collective effort to making it work. The program must be owned by all of us, and should not be seen as something being put forward by ‘management’, but rather as something that allows us to rise above the individual issues in aiming towards a greater good.

As the Dean and CEOs, we invite you to be part of the process and help us to build a UCT and GSH/RXH that you can be proud of and that will rise up against the divisive past towards a future rich in diversity, inclusivity, mutual respect and equality, in a way that not only accepts our differences, but embraces them.

Covid has shown us and taught us many lessons, one of which is that our lives are precious; our lives may be brief on this earth, but all our lives should be valued by ourselves and equally by others around us. If we can engage one another using a foundational principle of mutual respect, we will show value to one another. Our behavioral principle remains “I will respect you and you will respect me”. Each one of us is different and we need to learn to be more accepting of one another. Life is too short to allow our differences to impede our progress towards achieving a goal of diversity, inclusivity, mutual respect and equality. This must remain our focus.

The leadership of University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences (UCTFHS), Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (RCWMCH)