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Marking 25 Years Of The New South Africa

Dr Jotello Festiri Soga

South Africa's First Veterinarian

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Bust of Dr Soga
Onderstepoort Veterinary
Research Institute

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Jotello F Soga Library
Faculty of Veterinary Science
University of Pretoria

Dr Jotello F Soga

Given South Africa’s racial history, it is almost unbelievable that the country’s first veterinarian was black – and that he earned his qualification in 1886! Dr Jotello Festiri Soga, a member of a distinguished Xhosa family from the Eastern Cape, graduated from the University of Edinburgh.


Indeed, he and many other family members were true pioneers. His father, the Rev Tiyo Soga, South Africa’s first black ordained Presbyterian clergyman, was a mid-19th Century advocate of black pride and racial equality who inspired the founding of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1912. All of Rev Soga’s four sons were educated in Scotland, all returned to South Africa, and all became prominent in their respective professions.


Jotello Soga, the veterinarian, helped eradicate rinderpest, a highly contagious and fatal cattle disease that almost decimated South Africa’s cattle stock in the late 19th Century. He was part of a team put together by both Paul Kruger and Lord Milner to fight the infection. Yet the British colonial government denied him a permanent position because he was black.


The success of today’s South African dairy and cattle industries can be traced to the team of veterinarians  of which Dr Soga was a key member.


In spite of acute racial discrimination, Dr Soga persevered. He conducted important research on animal health. He frequently contributed articles on veterinary medicine to professional journals. He was a much sought-after speaker at conferences organized by South African farmers - including Afrikaner agricultural groups. He was also a co-founder of the old Cape Colony Veterinary Society in 1905, which later became the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA).


Because of his race, Dr Soga’s memory and his contributions to veterinary research were deliberately hidden from public view after his death in 1906. His very existence was not generally known to most South Africans until Jesse Lewis wrote an article about him for Die Burger in 2007. As a result, the University of Pretoria named the library of its Faculty of Veterinary Science in Dr Soga’s honor. Mr Lewis gave the principal address at the naming ceremony.


This important documentary film will examine Dr Soga’s remarkable – but short – life. The film will also look at the accomplishments of his family and those of other black South Africans in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries whose contributions have never been fully recognized – even in the new South Africa.