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Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, September 11, 2015

On Biko and Homo Naledi

I am so pleased that the initial "unveiling" of Homo Naledi has come at the same time as the remembrance and anniversary of Steve Biko's death. Steve Biko died on the floor of an empty cell in Pretoria Central Prison on the 12th of September 1977. I was 17 at the time and thus part of that generation of South African youth whose lives couldn't help but be influenced by him. My own personal tribute to this great man, once accused by the African National Congress of being a CIA spy, was my masters thesis Does Steve Biko have more to offer medical ethics than his death for which I received a distinction from Wits and have been asked to prepare for publication in the Journal of Developing World Bioethics and/or the South African Medical Journal.

One of my examiners summed up my work better than I could: 


"Poole’s research report is an attempt to assess how Steve Biko’s philosophy might be a resource for a modern Ubuntu-based dialogue with mainstream Western bioethics. Demonstrating how Biko’s thought is both part of the Ubuntu tradition and can engage critically with contemporary bioethics is something that is both timely and important. And in Dr Poole’s case, it has been handled with great skill and imagination. In short what we have is a truly original, ground-breaking piece of work. I am happy not only to pass it, but to grant it a distinction. The reason for the latter is that he has managed in less than 50 pages to open up a new area that needs further research, while making a significant contribution in his own right. I firmly hope that he will revise this work for publication – I would suggest in this regard he tries the SAMJ or Developing World Bioethics."

Steve Biko’s real contribution to medical ethics was not his death, but rather an ethic that takes seriously the  contribution that African moral thinking has to make in the field of medical ethics, a contribution that does nothing less than give to medical ethics a more human face, a contribution which Biko himself believed was what Africa was still to give to the world, a more human face. 

Yesterday's announcement, by Wits, of a new species of extinct animal, Homo Naledi, is the affirmation that our quintessential African trait of ubuntu is indeed prehistoric: The proposed burial rites of Homo Naledi demonstrate that God-created beings (not humans), here in Africa, cared for one another, identified with one another, realised that they were because of each other (the essential element of ubuntu), all before they were even classified as sentient beings (this last paragraph inspired by Editorial comment in The Star, 11/9/15)

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