Although bubonic plague is not one of the major veterinary diseases of South Africa, it played an important role in the scientific history of the Union. In turn, international conceptions of the disease were shaped by scientists from the Veterinary Research Institute at Onderstepoort and the South African Institute for Medical Research, among others. Due to the South African experience, plague became a tropical disease, endemic in a rural landscape south of the equator.
Plague came to South Africa in 1899-1900 through the port cities of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban. With the first cases and ensuing panic, public health officials began “sanitizing” these cities (especially poor neighbourhoods inhabited by people of color) by quarantining people, killing rats, disinfecting and even burning whole neighbourhoods. By 1910, government health officials congratulated themselves that the disease had been eliminated in South Africa. (Read full abstract in the WAHVM 2020 proceedings https://repository.up.ac.za/handle/2263/74403)
Presentation delivered at the 44th International Congress of the World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine held from the 27-29 of February 2020 at The Farm Inn Hotel and Conference Centre, Pretoria, South Africa