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Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a medical doctor, but not registered to practise in South Africa

A message circulating on Facebook claims Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s cooperative governance minister, is “not a medical Dr as her license has been erased and she was removed from the medical roll”. One version adds: “She has falsefied her title.”

Another post goes on to name other senior medical officials with the title “doctor” who are also not on the medical roll or have been “erased” from it.

The message shows a screenshot of Dlamini-Zuma’s page on the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) registry, on which her “registration status” is listed as “erased”.

Dlamini-Zuma was the country’s health minister from 1994 to 1999. She has been in the news recently for  a ban on cigarette and tobacco sales during South Africa’s Covid-19 outbreak. Many have questioned her argument that smoking could worsen the disease. 

One post, which has been shared nearly 300 times, concludes: “This gets me thinking. We have Medical Doctors not registered or details can't be found in posts of power as Health MEC with no registration.”

Does Dlamini-Zuma’s status on the medical roll mean she is not a medical doctor or has falsified her title?

Registration to practise medicine

Qualifying as a doctor and being registered to practise medicine in South Africa are two different things.

To practise medicine in South Africa, a doctor – someone with a recognised medical degree must register with the HPCSA. The council says: “An annual fee is payable for this registration and failure to pay this fee could result in suspension from the register.” 

Dlamini-Zuma’s status on the HPCSA’s medical practitioners register is listed as “erased”.

But erasure from the register is not necessarily a result of failure to pay the membership fee, or to meet the requirements for registration. An HPCSA member may be voluntarily erased from the register, “if the practitioner does not intend to practice his/her profession in South Africa for a given period of time”.

Dlamini-Zuma’s qualifications

Does Dlamini-Zuma have a medical qualification?

Dlamini-Zuma has, along with several other degrees listed on her official government page, an MB ChB, or Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, from Bristol University in the United Kingdom. The university has listed the minister among its “notable alumni”. The five year course is still offered, and is described as “the primary medical qualification awarded by the University of Bristol”.

This qualification is also shown on the HPCSA register. It records that Dlamini-Zuma received “MB ChB Brist” in January 1978.

As a minister, Dlamini-Zuma is not a practising doctor, and has not been for many years. She has been in the South African cabinet since 1994, except for when she served a four-year term as chair of the African Union Commission from 2012 to 2017.

It is unclear whether she voluntarily erased her own HPCSA registration, but this does not erase her medical degree or her other qualifications. Should she decide to return to medical practice, she would need to re-register with the HPCSA and prove that she meets its requirements.

It is likely the same is true of other government officials whose HPCSA registrations have been erased. – Keegan Leech


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