The legal battle between the South African Medical Association (SAMA), a non-profit professional association and the administrator of its union, the South African Medical Association Trade Union (Samatu) is cause for concern, writes Dr Zolile Mlisana head of the paediatric department at Mthatha Regional Hospital and the founding chairman of SAMA in Daily Maverick.
SAMA was born out of an intensely engaging social reflection by the pre-1994 South African doctor groups. The then white Medical Association of South Africa (Masa) registered a union for doctors in 1996. It was a well-endowed association which merged into one professional association with the black doctor groups. Now SAMA faces an implicit secession of its union wing.
A small clique of doctors with questionable leadership bona fides took SAMA to court and obtained a judgment which imposed an administrator on Samatu. They are short-sightedly pushing for a split of the association, with apparent focus on a claim to the resources of Samatu’s parent body, SAMA.
This push has no members’ mandate but has won the day through the courts so far. Advantage is being taken of what can be reasonably regarded as inept impositions of the labour law on professional associations. These naive breakaway doctors have no genuine interest or laudable track record in representing public sector doctors.
The SAMA-Samatu fight is nothing more than a scramble for the financial resources that SAMA is perceived to have. The claim to these resources by a factional clique smells of politically sponsored and naive opportunism which amounts to daylight robbery with probable abuse by organs of state, judging by the ease with which they have so far found rather strange traction through them. Or might it be because of the intrinsically linear intelligence of the law?
Any dishonest runaway with SAMA’s resources, will not serve the needs of the employed doctors but the fate of the profession, beyond formal SAMA membership, would be prejudiced.
In the past few years, South Africans have found themselves besieged by opportunistic corruption and greed among those in positions of influence. This presents the medical profession with valuable lessons which are to be taken seriously, for the future of the profession, and perhaps all professions.
The collective conscience of South Africa is increasingly on trial before the courts and commissions. These will not restore humility and honesty. The conflict between SAMA and Samatu attests to the deeply complex psychology of South Africa. The nation at grassroots must rediscover its moral values before all social institutions and organisations are destroyed by self-centred opportunism.
The medical profession has a duty to demonstrate its intrinsic social ethical conscience and set itself above all unionist clamour for rights. What the medical profession achieved when founding Sama was and is still relevant.
South Africans deserve a medical profession which collectively has a deep social conscience and which resists the temptation to be sucked into politically correct actions in addressing social issues. The professions owe it to the nation to resolve matters without putting at risk the national assets of their united associations which contribute immensely to respective standards, policy and regulation.
Leaders of the professional associations need to embark on a new social revolution which is to be firmly anchored in humility and honesty.
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