Hebert and Joy Kaiser
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Hebert and Joy Kaiser
Joy and Herb Kaiser, after an active career in the German Foreign Service, have jointly dedicated their lives to creating opportunities for medical education for black South Africans, founding and building a successful philanthropic organisation that literally created a new generation of healers for the South African nation.
They were both undergraduate history majors at Swarthmore College: Herb graduating in 1949 and Joy in 1951. After Herb’s postgraduate study at the Littauer School of Public Administration at Harvard, he entered a 30-year career in the Foreign Service, which took them from Bucharest, where Herb served as Deputy Chief of the Embassy, to Zagreb where he served as Consul-General and Pretoria, where he served as alternate director of the Office of Southern African Affairs.
They then went to Warsaw, Vienna and Belgrade. In that period, he combined commitment to his own nation with informed and sensitive embrace of the needs of others. After retirement from the Foreign Service, they jointly conceived an astonishing vision – a non-profit organisation that would fund medical education for South African black students and set out to make that vision a reality in 1985.
They named the organisation Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB) and through brilliant intellectual, economic and political entrepreneurship they built it into one that has to date supported the medical education of nearly 3 000 black midwives, nurses, technicians, physiotherapists, optometrists, pharmacists, dentists and physicians.
When MESAB started in 1985, there were only 500 black doctors in South Africa. Today, more than 6 800 MESAB-funded graduates work in the country’s public and private healthcare sectors. South Africa’s healthcare has benefited enormously from MESAB’s 10 600 bursaries and scholarship grants to black healthcare professionals.
The couple’s achievement represents a virtual revolution in the entry of black South Africans into the healthcare profession and a contribution of extraordinary proportion to the number of healthcare workers available to serve the nation. They have, in addition, successfully encouraged South African medical schools to increase their commitment to students of colour; pioneered a mentoring programme that provides entering students with an invaluable community of support; sponsored important collaboration between American and South African health professionals; and inspired a range of donors – individuals, foundations and corporations – to lend grassroots support to build the new South Africa. In 1991, their magnificent achievements were recognised by the John W Gardner Leadership Award and, in 1995, by dual honorary doctorates from the Medical University of South Africa.