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The Good Doctor:

Hope and despair in post-apartheid SA


In this essay I would like to explore prominent themes of Damon Galguts master piece The Good Doctor which primarily depicts the life in post-apartheid South Africa. However, before discussing the themes of the novel, it is pertinent to look into the life of the writer which sets the backdrop to his creative writings. Life and times Damon Galgut is an award-winning South African playwright and novelist. Galgut was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1963. His family, of European stock, had strong ties to the South African judiciary. When he was six years old, Galgut was diagnosed with cancer, a trauma which he has described as the central, cataclysmic event of my life. He fell very ill, and spent long stretches of his childhood in hospital. His love for storytelling developed at this time as he lay convalescing in his hospital bed, listening to relatives reading stories to him. Galgut studied drama at the University of Cape Town. He was only 17 when his debut novel, A Sinless Season, was published. His battle with cancer was given fictional form in his next book, a collection of short stories called Small Circle of Beings (1988). The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs (1991) won the CNA Prize, South Africas leading literary award. The Quarry (1995) was made into a feature film, which went on to win prizes on the international film festival circuit. The Good Doctor was enthusiastically received by critics. It was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2003 and also won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book from the Africa Region. The Good Doctor The novel The Good Doctor is set in a dilapidated and largely neglected, ill-supplied rural hospital. The hospital is in the predominately poor area, black section of postapartheid South Africa which was previously called the homelands. The book opens with the arrival of Dr. Laurence Waters who is a recent medical school graduate with high ideals and a need to make a difference. The initial and prophetic pronouncement made upon him by Dr. Frank Eloff a disillusioned veteran physician is that Dr. Walters won't last. There is a minimal staff at the hospital. In addition to Frank there is only; Dr. Ngema, the administrator and head surgeon; the Santanders, a couple of doctors originally from Cuba; and Tehogo, who does the work of both a nurse and an orderly, but without proper qualifications. Dr. Ngema has been at the hospital for many years, awaiting her promotion to a job at a larger, better facility. Though Dr.Ngema always tells about innovation and change, she effectively resists any substantial innovation and change Of course, hes welcome here. I am not saying he isnt. The community service ideaIm in favour. Im all for innovation and change, you know that

Innovation and change: it was one of her key phrases, a mantra she liked to repeat. But it was empty. Ruth Ngema would go to great lengths to avoid any innovation or change, because who knew what might follow on? But I was in tune with her today, I knew what she wanted, she understood my feelings too. The hospital in a way serves as a monument of political change which had been marked on the map by authorities who had never visited it and largely neglected in the postapartheid era. Although the hospital was nearly ten years old by now, it had never been properly completed. Too many things had intervened. It had started as a project of the first chief minister of the homeland, but soon all the buildings had gone up there was the military coup and everything had been installed and suspended. It took another two years for all of it to get moving again. But not long after that the white government finally gave in, down in the real centre of power, far away, and it was all left hanging again. Then the homeland had ceased to be a homeland, and with its re-absorption into the country the meaning and the future of the hospital became permanently unclear Harsh reality Post-apartheid South Africa provides the setting for the clash of the political ideal of black and white working together and the reality of separation and discrimination. The protagonist Laurence, the idealist and Frank, the realist are caught within the clash. Laurence's idealism is also frequently challenged by the reality of his circumstances and rather hostile environment in the hospital and power relations between Dr.Ngema and the rest of the staff. He has come to this hospital to do meaningful work because Laurence envisions himself as doing his part to relieve suffering and save humanity. However, the reality is that this is a sham of a hospital and Laurence will have to take his skills to the villages in order to reach out to the people who need him. Laurence has come to do good work, yet there seems to be no work to do. The hospital should be a place of healing, yet it is without patients and it is in need of healing itself. There is no apartheid anymore, officially. However, still the influence of pre-apartheid era is very much alive. He meant, how did it come to be here at all? And that was the real question. This was not a town that had sprung up naturally for normal human reasons-a river in a dry area, say, discovery of gold,.It was a town that had been conceived and planned on paper, by evil bureaucrats in a city far way, who had probably never been here. Here is our homeland, they say, tracing an outline on a map, now where should its capital be? Why not here, in the middle? They marked an X with a red pen and all felt satisfied with themselves. .. What do you think this place meant to them? Its where the army came from. Its where their puppet dictator lived. They hate this place. You mean politics, he said. But thats all past now. It doesnt matter anymore. The past has not just happened. Its not past yet.

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