Wendy Orr 2012

Wendy Orr has led and continues to lead an extraordinary life which has influenced change in the apartheid struggle and the fight for human rights. She was just 23 when she qualified as a medical doctor at the University of Cape Town in 1983. While working in the medical examiner's office in Port Elizabeth in 1985, she treated political detainees who had been assaulted and became the first and only doctor in government employment to reveal police torture and abuse of these detainees, when she applied to the Supreme Court for a restraining order against the police.

After leaving Port Elizabeth, she worked in a number of health care settings, including the private sector, non-profit sector and tertiary education. She remained deeply involved in human rights activist work, particularly as it pertained to health care, engaging in activities which included volunteer work for the National Medical and Dental Association's Detainee Service, volunteer work for Rape Crisis and People Opposing Women's Abuse, and membership of the Human Rights Committee's Working Group on the provision of health care in prisons. She was awarded a Civil Rights League Human Rights Award in 1990 and in 1991 was shortlisted for a Human Rights Medicine Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In the early 1990s she became involved in activism around HIV/AIDS and spearheaded the University of Cape Town’s HIV/AIDS policy development and implementation processes. She trained as an AIDS counsellor in London and New York and played an active role in AIDS education and training on the campus of UCT.

In 1995 she was appointed by then-President Nelson Mandela as a Commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa where she served until its closure, after which she was appointed as Director of Transformation and Employment Equity at the University of the Witwatersrand. She continued her involvement in the health sector, however, and was a member of the Medical Research Council's Ethics Committee, a Visiting Fellow at Tuskeegee Bioethics Institute in Alabama and also chaired a sub-committee on prison health as part of the Dual Loyalties Working Group. She is currently head of Group Inclusion Strategies for the Standard Bank Group.

Wendy is also a published author, with her book “From Biko to Basson” documenting her experiences as a TRC Commissioner in Cape Town. She lives true to her writing, when she says: “Honour your own humanity by recognizing and honouring the humanity of others, regardless of colour, creed, gender or nationality. Honour humanity by valuing the richness that difference creates, by seeking to understand rather than to condemn and by being true to yourself.”

For her courageous approach in advancing the achievement of human rights and for her unwavering commitment to the transformation of society in pursuit of equality and social justice, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is honoured to present Dr Wendy Orr with the Council Prestige Award.