By Izibele Mhlomi
Jotello Festiri Soga laid a foundation for veterinary education in South Africa by becoming the country’s first black Veterinarian. He earned his qualification in 1886 at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he studied veterinary medicine.
He is one of four sons of the late Reverend Tiyo Soga (first black Presbyterian Church Minister) and Janet Burnside-Soga (Scottish). His siblings also graduated in Scotland at the University of Glasgow. They all returned to work and live in South Africa and became prominent in their respective professions. Just like his father, Jotelllo also married a Scottish woman, Catherine Watson in 1892 and they were blessed with three daughters.
Jotello was a pioneer researcher in the study of toxic plants and their effect on animals – both for their poisonous and curative effects and because of that, cattle and diary industries in South Africa today are a success.
In March 1896, Rinderpest was on the horizon in the Northern Cape, cattle were becoming sick and dying in thousands. Dr Soga played an important role in combating rinderpest and lung-sickness in the country with the help of other South African role-players. He did his own inoculation experiments on lung-sickness and his vaccination method was accepted as standard use thereafter.
In spite of acute racial discrimination, Dr Soga persevered. He continued his research on animal health and frequently contributed articles on veterinary medicine to professional journals. As a result of the exhaustive fight against rinderpest, he died in 1906 at the age of 41 in Amalinda, East London.
Dr Soga’s remarkable – but – short life and contributions to veterinary research were deliberately hidden from public view after his death until Lewis Burger wrote an article about him in 2007. As a result, a year later after the article was published the University of Pretoria named the library of its Faculty of Veterinarian Science in Dr Soga’s honour. Not only does the library provide specialised information service to the faculty, it also provides information of accomplishments of black South Africans whose contributions were never fully recognised.