Public health and society in Cape Town, 1880-1910

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis is a contribution to the social history of medicine and to urban history. It attempts to examine the impact of public health reform on Cape Town society between 1880 and 1910. Accepting the argument that the control of disease is one of the means by which a dominant establishment may assert its authority and impose its ideology in a society, it contends that ideas about the organisation of society were transmitted from metropolitan Britain to the Cape Colony partly through the implementation of public health reform but that such notions became modified in the process. It concludes that health reform was one means by which imperial control was maintained in South Africa and a segregated society was implemented. The "sanitation syndrome" was more than a metaphor. It was a powerful agency for change because it was deeply embedded in the consciousness of Victorian society and provided a scientific rationalisation for the separation of the races and the assertion of white, British, dominance. Topics include the creation of a medical profession at the Cape; the effect of health panics caused by the smallpox epidemic of 1882 and the plague epidemic of 1901 on social relations in the city; the impact of the closure of the cemeteries and the introduction of the Contagious Diseases Acts on different communities in the city; the creation of bureaucracies in local and central government; and mortality in the early twentieth century.

Bibliography: leaves 499-534.