Ivan Toms

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Ivan Toms (11 July 1952 25 March 2008) was a South African physician, who battled the Apartheid era government as a prominent anti-Apartheid and anti-conscription activist. [1] At the time of his death in 2008, Toms was serving as the Director of Health for the city of Cape Town, South Africa. [2]

South Africa Republic in the southernmost part of Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini (Swaziland); and it surrounds the enclaved country of Lesotho. South Africa is the largest country in Southern Africa and the 25th-largest country in the world by land area and, with over 57 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Bantu ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European, Asian (Indian), and multiracial (Coloured) ancestry.

Physician professional who practices medicine

A physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a professional who practises medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may focus their practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment—known as specialities—or they may assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities—known as general practice. Medical practice properly requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment—the science of medicine—and also a decent competence in its applied practice—the art or craft of medicine.

Apartheid System of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap, which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.


Early life

Ivan Toms was born in Cape Town on 11 July 1952. [3] He received his medical degree from the University of Cape Town in 1976. [3]

Doctor of Medicine is a medical degree, the meaning of which varies between different jurisdictions. In the United States, Canada and some other countries, the M.D. denotes a professional graduate degree awarded upon graduation from medical school. In the United States, this generally arose because many in 18th century medical profession trained in Scotland, which used the M.D. degree nomenclature. In England, however, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery was used and eventually in the 19th century became the standard in Scotland too. Thus, in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other countries, the M.D. is a research doctorate, higher doctorate, honorary doctorate or applied clinical degree restricted to those who already hold a professional degree in medicine; in those countries, the equivalent professional to the North American and some others use of M.D. is still typically titled Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.).

University of Cape Town university in Cape Town, South Africa

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College making it the oldest higher education institute in South Africa. In terms of full university status, it is jointly the oldest university in South Africa and the oldest extant university in Sub-Saharan Africa alongside Stellenbosch University which received full university status on the same day in 1918.

Ivan attended Glenwood High School in Durban from 1965 to 1969. He was deputy Head Prefect in 1969. A eulogy to Ivan can be found at: https://web.archive.org/web/20160916112842/http://www.glenwoodhighschool.co.za/node/3493.


Toms was drafted into the national service in the South African Defence Force (SADF), as a non-combatant doctor in 1978. [2] [3] He opposed the goals of the SADF, but refused to leave South Africa. [3] He spent much of his six months as a doctor in Namibia, which was then known as South West Africa and was controlled by South Africa. [2]

National service is a system of either compulsory or voluntary government service, usually military service. Conscription is mandatory national service. The term national service comes from the United Kingdom's National Service Act 1939. Many young people spend one or more years in such programmes. Compulsory military service typically requires all male citizens to enroll for one or two years, usually at age 18, while voluntary national service requires only three months of basic military training. The US equivalent is Selective Service. In the United States, voluntary enrollments at the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are also known as national service.

South African Defence Force comprised the South African armed forces from 1957 until 1994

The South African Defence Force (SADF) comprised the South African armed forces from 1957 until 1994. Shortly before the state reconstituted itself as a republic in 1961, the former Union Defence Force was officially succeeded by the SADF, which was established by the Defence Act of 1957. The SADF, in turn, was superseded by the South African National Defence Force in 1994.

Non-combatant is a term of art in the law of war and international humanitarian law to refer to civilians who are not taking a direct part in hostilities. They are persons, such as combat medics and military chaplains, who are members of the belligerent armed forces but are protected because of their specific duties ; combatants who are placed hors de combat; and neutral persons not involved in fighting for one of the belligerents involved in a war. This particular status was first recognized under the Geneva Conventions with the First Geneva Convention of 1864.

Once he returned to Cape Town, Toms set up a medical clinic in the squatter settlement of Crossroads, which is located about 15 km outside of the city in the Cape Flats area. [2] He was the only doctor who served the Crossroads' population of approximately 60,000 people. [3] In September 1983, Toms witnessed a three-week-long confrontation between the Crossroads community and the South African police and security forces, who were trying to tear down "illegal" buildings in the settlement. [3] After witnessing the violence and brutality of the raid, Toms vowed never to serve in the SADF again, even in a non-combatant capacity. [2] He went public with his opinions on what he had witnessed and became a founding member of the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) in 1983. [3] Toms' co-founders of the ECC included other prominent anti-conscription activists including Nan Cross. [4]

Cape Flats

The Cape Flats is an expansive, low-lying, flat area situated to the southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. To many people in Cape Town, the area is known simply as "The Flats".

The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front (UDF) and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa. It was formed in 1983 to oppose the conscription of all white South African men into military service in the South African Defence Force.

Nan Cross was a South African anti-apartheid and anti-conscription activist.

Toms went on a three-week-long hunger strike in February 1985 to protest the government's decision to bulldoze the Crossroads shanty town. [1] [2] [3] The destruction of Crossroads resulted in violence and the deaths of several people as residents tried to resist the destruction. [3] Toms commented during his hunger strike that, "As a Christian, I am obliged to say no, to say never again will I put on that SADF uniform." [1]

Hunger strike method of non-violent resistance or pressure

A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance or pressure in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke the feelings of guilt in others, usually with the objective to achieve a specific goal, such as a policy change. Most hunger strikers will take liquids but not solid food.

Shanty town a settlement of plywood, corrugated metal, sheets of plastic, and cardboard boxes

A shanty town or squatter area is a settlement of improvised building that is known as shanties or shacks, made of plywood, corrugated metal, sheets of plastic, and cardboard boxes. Sometimes called a squatter, or spontaneous settlement, a typical shanty town often lacks adequate infrastructure, including proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity, hygienic streets, or other basic necessities to support human settlements.

Christians people who adhere to Christianity

Christians are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The words Christ and Christian derive from the Koine Greek title Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ).

The SADF officially took control of Toms' health clinic in 1986. [3] The following year, in July 1987, Toms defied the SADF when he was called up for one month of compulsory service. [2] [3] He was sentenced to 21 months in prison in 1988 for defying the order and ultimately served nine months in Pollsmoor Prison. [3]


Ivan Toms became the national co-ordinator of the National Progressive Primary Healthcare Network in 1991 at the end of the Apartheid era. [3] The AIDS virus was beginning to sweep through South Africa at the time. [2] Toms, as the national co-ordinator, began to implement a series of programs to combat the spread of AIDS and HIV in the country. He was considered a pioneer in the advocacy of the use of antiretroviral drugs to fight the disease. [1] He became director of the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation in 1993, which is a non-governmental organization which runs medical clinics staffed by students in poor areas. [3] He continued to work for non-governmental charities until 1996, when he became the Health Director in the City of Cape Town. [3] His name is remembered in the Ivan Toms Centre for Men's Health (Cape Town) in Greenpoint, Cape Town, which works in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

South African President Thabo Mbeki awarded Ivan Toms with the Order of the Baobab in 2006 for his stance against Apartheid and his public service for South Africans in need. [3]


Ivan Toms died unexpectedly of meningitis at his home in Mowbray on 25 March 2008, at the age of 54. [1] [2] [3] He was honored by prominent South African political figures, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the Mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille. [2] Archbishop Tutu described himself as "devastated" by the news of Toms' death and paid tribute to him saying, "I thank God that I knew him. Knowing him makes (one) feel proud. This is a prime example of someone who had ubuntu. He was utterly selfless." [5] His funeral, which was attended by hundreds of people including Archbishop Tutu, was held at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Ivan Toms, doctor who battled policy of apartheid". Associated Press . Boston Globe. 28 March 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Ivan Toms, 'bravest of the brave', dies in Cape Town". South African Press Association . Mail and Guardian. 25 March 2008. Archived from the original on 1 April 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Beresford, David (10 April 2008). "Ivan Toms, South African doctor opposed to the conscription that bolstered apartheid". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  4. "Nan Cross: Supported men resisting apartheid conscription". The Sunday Times (South Africa) . 22 July 2007. Retrieved 17 September 2007.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. "Ivan Toms found dead". Cape Times . Independent Online (South Africa). 26 March 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  6. "Tutu praises anti-apartheid hero". SABC News . 2 April 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.[ dead link ]