Message of condolences on the Death of Professor David Sanders
AIDC Statement | 02 September 2019
We join the many, nationally and globally in mourning the death of this great humanist, socialist, public health scholar and above all activist. David is probably best known both in South Africa and throughout the world for his multiple contributions to public health. But his public health work was part of a much larger commitment to the politics of social justice. It is from this commitment, and with the knowledge that neoliberalism would further exacerbate the inequalities and inequities bequeathed by apartheid to the ‘new’ South Africa that he joined a few comrades in conceptualising and giving birth to the AIDC in 1996. In fact, AIDC’s founding documents were written and debated at the Kenilworth home of David and his wife Sue Fawcus. Since then, he has been intimately involved in many roles in shaping our programmes and debating the direction of the organisation. He was elected to the AIDC’s Board of Trustees in 1996 and remained a most valued member of the Board until his death.
In the absence of a socialist movement inspired by Marxism, we can say without fear of contradiction that AIDC was his political home.
David was a man of many homes. In spite of his frenetic programme of work he loved his family dearly, his wife Sue, a public health professional and activist in her own right, was his anchor. His gifted children, Lisa, Ben and Oscar were his joy; David was in different ways their loadstar.
Children – all children – were his joy and motivation for much of his life’s work and it’s his love for children that was behind his massive contribution to paediatrics and being recognised by all important global and national institutions.
David, a highly skilled medical doctor, saw health, not as a medical condition, but as a measure and reflection of the entire society in which people live. Political action, not medicine, was the only appropriate prescription when faced with the complex of social determinants causing ill health. Not surprisingly, David was in the forefront of founding and sustaining the Peoples Health Movement both locally and globally. He died as the sitting Chairperson of the People’s Health Movement, globally.
He championed the adoption of the National Health Insurance scheme as a vital instrument for securing universal health care and his work on the role of community health workers as a vital component of its delivery will be particularly value by all who recognise the critical importance of primary health care.
Tributes from some of the many organisations in which he was involved in so many different ways have already been made. Many more are guaranteed to arrive. This one is from all of us who are the AIDC, whether Board, partner organisations, staff or supporters. We know the magnitude of how David privileged our lives. It is the very richness of this knowledge that now leaves us numb, not knowing how to respond to his unexpected and totally untimely death. We are left wondering how we will manage in his absence.
But, then, we know David’s answer to this question. There is still a deeply troubled world to change. And this won’t happen without us, us in our tens of millions. He would have reminded us of the immortal words of Joe Hill, the US labour leader murdered by the US government for daring to challenge a world guaranteed to make everyone sick. ‘Don’t mourn’, he said ‘Organise!’