Cape Province & St John’s 1971 (13 August 1946 - Wednesday 7th February 2018)
Paul Theron was born in Cape Town in 1946. His second name is after a Second World War general whom his father admired. He grew up in Rondebosch and attended Rondebosch Boys Preparatory and High Schools, where he developed a number of close friends, read widely, and excelled academically. He matriculated with an ’Á’ aggregate, after which he was ‘called up’ to do military service.
Towards the end of his military service Paul contracted hepatitis, and during his convalescence resolved to become a medical doctor. In 1966 he was admitted to medical school at the University of Cape Town, where he won the Zwarenstein prize as the best first year student. Two years later he joined protests against the apartheid government’s decision prevent an African lecturer joining the university staff, and became involved in student politics. He was elected to the SRC, and the following year became its President. He also won an Abe Bailey Scholarship.
The award of a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University was to be a turning point in his life, although not in a way he had hoped it would be. To take up the scholarship, he had to interrupt his medical studies. Isolated from family and friends, he had a ‘breakdown’ and returned to South Africa. This was doubtless a bitter disappointment. No less bitter was the realization that the breakdown signified a disability which his profession has labelled as ‘mentally illness’.
Paul was to display considerable courage in coming to come to terms with this disability, and building a professional career despite it, as well leading a full and productive life. On his return to Cape Town he did a B.Sc degree before completing his medical studies, and moving to Port Elizabeth, where he taught at the university before taking up a position at Livingstone Hospital. He then spent some six years in England, most of which as a general practitioner in Ipswich, and married Rhona, the mother of Danielle and Jessica. He returned with them in 1985 to start a general practice in Wynberg.
It is for his work in the public sector, however, that Paul will be remembered most. While in general practice at Wynberg he accepted a position as a district surgeon. His duties included sessions at Pollsmoor prison, and he worked there altogether 22 years, later becoming senior medical practioner at the prison’s Medium A section. Appalled by the unacceptable standard of health care, Paul made repeated efforts to get the Department of Correctional Services to address the situation. For his troubles, he was suspended in 2007.
“Dr Paul Theron should be publicly commended for the many years of devoted health care service he has given to prisoners at Pollsmoor Prison” wrote Solly Benatar, who was at the time professor of medical ethics. “he has distinguished himself as a doctor with integrity and admirable human values. In any decent nation his work and his courage in reporting deteriorating conditions….would be rewarded with a medal of distinguished national service.” (Cape Times, 4 October 2007)
Paul challenged the lawfulness of his suspension, in one of the first cases brought under a recently introduced law to protect whistle-blowers. Although he did not return to Pollsmoor, he was reinstated by the Department of Health, and reinvented himself as a ‘clinical forensic practioner’. He was also vindicated, in case brought by a former Pollsmoor prisoner in which Paul gave evidence, which went all the way to the Constitutional Court (Lee v Minister of Correctional Services). He is survived by Margaretha, who he married in 1993, Danielle and Jessica, and grandchildren Mikaela and Beth.