Welcome by Professor Catriona Macleod

Good evening and welcome to:

  • Our distinguished guest, Dr Yogan Pillay
  • The vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr Saleem Badat
  • Our deputy vice-chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela.
  • Staff members of the Psychology Department and other divisions within the university
  • Students of the Psychology department and other departments within the university. 

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the second of the Psychology Department’s social change project events. The aim of this project is to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution made by leading psychologists to social change in South Africa. Starting in 2008 and ending in 2012, we have and shall, each year, acknowledge, through an event such as the one tonight five different psychologists. Last year, Prof Chabani Manganyi was the recipient and tonight, we celebrate the contribution made by Dr Yogan Pillay.

Last year I spoke in this introductory section about the reasons we wanted to institute such a project. I indicated that

  • the emphasis on the individual and the ascendancy of a natural science model within Psychology has meant is that social issues have, for the most part, been ignored, at worst, or treated as an add-on, at best, by psychologists,
  • mainstream Psychology in South Africa during Apartheid was a conservative and intensely racialised project, and
  • even in recent years, socio-political issues have rarely found their way into our thinking within Psychology.

Yogan Pillay is a clear example of a psychologist who has transcended all these strictures. He is currently Deputy Director-General for strategic Health Programmes in the national Department of Health. Prior to this he, chronologically speaking, worked as a Clinical Psychologist/Lecturer in Midlands Hospital Complex/University of Natal, and as a Lecturer, and Senior Lecturer and Head of Department of the then University of Durban-Westville. He then moved onto the national Department of Health and worked as Director: Systems Development and Policy Coordination, Director: Policy Analysis and Planning Unit, National Co-ordinator – the Equity Project, Chief Director and now DDG, Strategic Planning, National Department of Health. In these years, he has built up a wealth of expertise in the development of health policies, in health strategies and legislation and in the monitoring and support of health policy implementation.

Yogan’s early policy work centred around mental health policy. He wrote a number of influential publications on this issue, including an edited book. However, his work soon shifted to health policy in general. Perhaps the clue to this shift lies in a paper published in 1997 in the South African Medical Journal entitled, “Facilitating co-ordinated community mental health care in South Africa: the role of community health workers in the referral system”. The objective of the study reported on in this article was to “develop, implement and evaluate a referral system to facilitate access to and co-ordination of care in a restructured mental health system designed to provide comprehensive, integrated and community-based mental health care” (p. 1621). Yogan and his co-author Inge Petersen concluded that “The efficacy of the referral and information management system implemented to facilitate the identified triad function of community health workers was hampered by a lack of co-operation by health care professionals at other points within the system as well as poor motivation on the part of community health workers themselves. This was attributed, in part, to the lack of clarity at a provincial level on the roles and functions of community health workers within the health care system. Furthermore, this study highlighted the need to sensitise health professionals to the importance of community health workers and other community care-givers in the provision of a community-based mental health care system, especially in rural and semi-rural areas” (p. 1621).

The sentiments expressed here paint a clear picture of the interweaving of the vicissitudes of individual mental health and a range of community, institutional, political and governance processes. Health systems are seen here as fundamental to mental health care. And so a movement into working directly with health policy and services should not be seen as surprising.
While many of us as psychologists are versed in the finer workings of the individual’s cognitive, neurological, emotional and developmental makeup, few of us understand the complexities of policy development and the potential impact that this has on our everyday lives. While Camilla Parker (2007) in a chapter on mental health policy argues that the essential goal of policy is to ensure that individuals can participate in society as equal citizens, it is equally possible that policy may lead to exactly the opposite, with the accompanying health and mental health consequences. Yogan’s own words around the purpose of policy perhaps best sums up the importance of health policy in terms of the project of psychology. Referring to adolescent sexual and reproductive health policy in a chapter published in 2008, he and his co-author, Alan Flisher, indicate that policy has the following purposes: to change behaviour at the individual and collective levels; to facilitate a higher priority being assigned to adolescent sexual and reproductive health; to establish a set of goals to be achieved, upon which future action can be based; to improve procedures for developing and prioritising adolescent sexual and reproductive services and activities; to identify principal stakeholders in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and to designate clear responsibilities and roles; and to achieve consensus of action among the different stakeholders.

Yogan’s contribution to the development of policy and monitoring systems is balanced with good solid critique. Critique, as Brown and Halley (2007) state, “invites us to dissect our most established maxims and shibboleths, not only for scholastic purposes, but also for the deeply political ones of renewing perspective and opening new possibility” (p. 27). Yogan’s work, which engages in the fine balance between inward reflection and critique, on the one hand, and policy development, strategic programme development, the development of legislation, and the monitoring of programmes on the other, is exactly about the renewing of perspectives and the opening of new possibilities.

Having spoken about some of Dr Pillay’s work , I shall now turn to Yogan the man. Yogan matriculated from Raisethorpe High School in Pietermaritzburg. He completed a B.Sc majoring in Physiology and Psychology at the University of Durban-Westville and a BSc, Hons, in Psychology and M.Sc in Clinical psychology in Psychology at the then University of Natal. He read for a PhD in Health Policy and Planning at Johns Hopkins in the USA. He has an MDP:General Management from Unisa and has undertaken the Senior Executive Programme through Wits/Harvard. He is registered as a clinical psychologist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.

His academic achievements are notable in terms of the scholarships and fellowships he has received including the Fulbright Scholarship (1990) Kellogg Fellowship (1991-1994), Sussex/IDS Fellowship (1999). Despite his heavy work schedule within the national Department of Health, Yogan manages to contribute to actively contribute to knowledge production and dissemination. He has published an impressive array of position papers, journal articles, book chapters, and edited books. The latest of these is a co-edited book published in 2009 on International Health. This is what Vincent Navarro, the Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Health Services had to say about this book: “Written in a fluid and accessible narrative, this text should become a point of reference not only for academics but for professionals and non-professionals working in the growing area of international health.” Yogan continues to pass on his valuable experience to students, working as an ad hoc lecturer at the Universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria and Cape Town. He is associate faculty at the National School of Public Health at MEDUNSA. Yogan’s expertise is clearly in demand as evidenced by the number of times he has acted as expert reviewer or sat on expert panels for the World Health Organisation, the number of national and international journals he has been approached by to review articles, and the universities who have asked him to examine theses.

Yogan, we are very appreciative of the time you have taken to be here with us tonight. Officially, from the Department of Psychology, we would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution you have made to social change in South Africa. We laud you for your courage in venturing into areas not often occupied by Psychologists, for your ongoing academic and public engagement, and for the wonderful example you set to our young aspirant and newly qualified psychologists, as well the slightly longer in the tooth ones such as myself. I invite you to address us on the topic of “Every little bit helps – social change and psychology”.

Parker, C. (2007). Developing mental health policy: a human rights perspective. In M. Knapp, D. McDaid, E. Mossialos, & G. Thornicroft (Eds.), Mental health policy and practice across Europe (pp. 308-335). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Brown, W., & Halley, J. (2002). Left legalism/Left critique. Durham: Duke University Press.


Read the speech delivered by Dr. Yogan Pillay here

Last Modified: Thu, 15 Aug 2013 12:18:16 SAST