The first black woman to graduate as a medical doctor in South Africa was Mary Susan Malahlela in 1947. She graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand’s health sciences faculty at a time when most graduates were male and white.
Dr. Mary Malahlela was born in Polokwane (then Pietersburg) in 1917. Her higher education journey began at the University of Fort Hare in 1936 as a medical aid and pre-medical student. In 1941, she received funding from the Native Trust Fund, which enabled her to register as a medical student. During this era of apartheid there were no medical training opportunities for black South Africans. The first was later established as a segregated black medical faculty at the University of Natal (UNB) in 1951 while black student entry to historically white universities was restricted in 1959. In 1977 a second training site for black medical students was set up, MEDUNSA and the third in 1986 at the University of Transkei.
This past week, the University of the Witwatersrand’s health sciences faculty unveiled a plaque in her honor. Her daughters, Linda Mandewo and Vuyelwa Tlhapi were present.
Dr. Malahela died on May 8, 1981 at the age of 65 after suffering a heart attack.