University of the Western Cape: UWC dentists reunite after 32 years

Thirty-two years of serving patients is no mean feat. The 22 University of the Western Cape (UWC) alumni who came from all over the country, and the world, to participate in the Dentistry Class of 1990 Reunion on 29 June 2022 not only had that special achievement in common, they could also be justifiably proud of being part of the largest dental school in Sub-Saharan Africa, where almost 50% of all new dentists in South Africa are trained.

Not only is current Dean of Dentistry, Professor Veerasamy (Jeff) Yengopal, a member of this special class, five of the former classmates are currently lecturers at the university’s Faculty of Dentistry. Three are permanent staffers who have obtained doctorates in their field and all have published widely. Prof Saadika Khan, a specialist in prosthetic dentistry, is the immediate past president and Prof Manogari Chetty is the president-elect of the South African Division of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR SA). Dental geneticist Prof Chetty is one of only two oral pathologists with a PhD in Human Genetics in South Africa and established the country’s first dental treatment and referral centre for patients with genetic disorders.

The class also produced two maxillofacial surgeons, a prosthodontist, two specialist community dentists and an oral pathologist.

“We are very proud of the two maxillofacial surgeons, Drs Suvir Singh and Anthony Ragadu, who emerged from this class,” says Prof Chetty.

This class also witnessed a significant moment in the country’s history when Dr Rhova Kharivhe made media headlines by becoming the first African black person to qualify as a dentist in the faculty in 1990. Dr Kharivhe has since carved out a successful career as a community dentist in Thoyohandou, Limpopo.

“It was great to qualify as a dentist; the results of hard work, sacrifices and camaraderie from classmates,” said Dr Kharivhe at the reunion. “Above all, I will forever cherish the fact that I pioneered the dental field at UWC for Africans and that under extremely difficult political situations in our history. It just goes to show that with the right attitude, dedication and will to succeed, nothing is impossible; the sky’s the limit.”

While enjoying the sense of reconnection and camaraderie on the day, Prof Khan recalled the challenges of studying in the 1980s: “We were studying towards our five-and-a-half-year degree during the heart of the 1985 boycotts. This resulted in our final year being extended for a further six months due to the political disruptions at the time. But this was something we were very used to, and our class of 22 all successfully completed our studies and went on to produce prominent achievers in the field.”