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August 6, 2001

S. Africa trip rekindles reconciliation spirit

Elizabeth Kurylo is communications coordinator for the Office of International Affairs.


Following nearly two weeks of meetings with key South African leaders in education, government and business, President Bill Chace said “the doors are open” for new collaborations to strengthen the deep ties that already exist between Emory and South Africa.

“We made good contacts, and we hope good things will develop from them,” said Chace, who led a delegation to South Africa in late May.

Many meetings were devoted to learning how South Africa is making the transition to a post-apartheid democracy and how it is dealing with the AIDS epidemic. South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country; one in nine (4.7 million) South Africans are infected, and only a minority have access to effective drug therapies.

South Africa faces tremendous challenges with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Chace said, and there is a huge disparity of wealth and power. But progress has been made on post-apartheid reconciliation.

“This is a country the whole world is watching,” Chace said. “It could have been the scene of a huge bloodbath. But instead it is seen as a model of reconciliation by people in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, for example.”

During the trip, the delegation observed research being done by Emory scholars and visited with students, alumni and friends of the University. The group also toured two impoverished townships and met with educators from nine universities, each of which is struggling to become more diverse in the wake of apartheid.

The delegation met with every member of the Constitutional Court, which is the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court. One justice, Richard Goldstone, received an Emory honorary degree in May.

“South Africa is one of the most interesting countries in the world,” Chace said. “I’m really proud of what Emory, in its own very small way, has been able to do there.”

Prior to the trip, dozens of faculty members already had links to South Africa. The connections, which can be seen in nearly every school at Emory, represent a rich and growing array of research and scholarship, ranging from HIV prevention to the study of Islam. In addition, faculty and students routinely travel to South Africa to learn about everything from journalism to medicine and business, and scholars from South Africa come here as well.

In the law school, several professors are working on South African issues, including reconciliation and anti-discrimination legislation. In arts and sciences, faculty are working with universities, museums and other institutions of public culture in South Africa that are struggling to survive.

Among those who accompanied Chace to South Africa were James Curran, dean of the School of Public Health, and Ronald Braithwaite, professor of behavioral sciences and health education.

Braithwaite is conducting HIV-prevention research among inmates about to be released from South African prisons. Curran has been involved in HIV/AIDS research for 20 years.
“To be in their presence,” Chace said, “was a great benefit to us.”

Other members of the delegation included Senior Vice President William Fox, English Professor JoAn Chace, University Secretary Gary Hauk, Claus Halle (founder of the Halle Institute for Global Learning) and Associate Vice President of Foundations and International Relations Glenn Kellum.

A highlight was a visit to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world, located in Soweto just outside Johannesburg. The delegation toured the infectious disease unit, where South African scientist and newly appointed Emory professor Keith Klugman is conducting research. His team is investigating ways to head off drug-resistant infections before they start; 40,000 children are enrolled in the trial of a pediatric vaccine against pneumonia. One goal is to see if the vaccine will prevent pneumonia in HIV-infected children.

Curran said the AIDS epidemic is “overwhelming,” and the country’s leaders have “essentially ignored it or worse.” He commended the “tremendous South African talent, both black and white” that is dealing with it, but said things will get worse before they get better.

“The full force of the epidemic hasn’t hit them yet,” Curran said. “Many people are walking around with the infection who have not yet been diagnosed.”

Fox said that despite the challenges facing South Africa, he saw a lot of hope. “People were very open with us about the problems they face—they weren’t trying to hide anything,” Fox said. “But what struck me the most was the hope and commitment and a willingness to try to see it all through in order to build a new country.”

Chace concurred: “The spirit of reconciliation is still in the air.”


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