1999 • Human Rights Award

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Growing up in the township of Langa near Cape Town, Pumla, like many of her contemporaries in the late 60s and early 70s, became politically aware at an early age.  It was only when she had completed her university studies, however, that she found the opportunity to combine her emotional energy with the skills she had learned from her studies. 

Having qualified as a Social Worker, Pumla went on to take an honours degree in Psychology. On completion of her studies she took a position in the rural area of the Maluti region where she raised funds to increase awareness of the plight of the physically challenged in the area.  These funds provided much needed relief to families whose disability grants had been withdrawn by the government. 
Pumla became aware of the problems of psychiatric patients at the nearby hospital -- many of whom were being released only to relapse and be readmitted. 

This prompted her to study for a masters degree in Clinical Psychology at Rhodes University.  During her studies and in subsequent work practice, Pumla realised that misdiagnosis was often the cause of the problems she had originally noted in the Maluti region. 
As a result she designed and introduced culturally sensitive assessment methods for the diagnosis and treatment of black patients. 

Her expertise in this area of study led to her being asked to address conferences and publish articles on the importance of recognizing cultural backgrounds in assessment and the neglect of primary mental health care in communities. 

For eight years, Pumla lectured at the University of the Transkei and initiated a number of community initiatives along with women who shared the same concerns about community mental health. 

Outside of her academic duties, Pumla started a book forum for children in Umtata, established a preschool centre in a squatter community and initiated the first Children's Rights Forum in the Eastern Cape. 

Due to her involvement with the latter, Pumla went on to become the National Coordinator of a UNICEF project and was invited to speak at the United Nations in New York on the issue of rural children in South Africa. 

In the late 1980s Pumla worked with human rights lawyers as a consultant on cases where young activists had been charged with offences in the fight against apartheid.  Her long term concerns with the struggle of black communities, her work with human rights lawyers and her training in psychology prepared her for her role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). 

As a member of the TRC's Human Rights Violations Committee, Pumla designed the first outreach program, conducted public talks on the role of the TRC, coordinated the hearings process in the Western Cape and headed a project on perpetrators of atrocities. 

She also mediated between victims and perpetrators and wrote several articles for local and international newspapers on the role that the TRC would play in healing the nation.  Her experiences at the TRC led to three published works and numerous awards for her studies, research and contributions to the betterment of society.