Guy de Klerk

Johan Nico (Guy) de Klerk, the son of a prominent attorney, DP de Klerk, and younger brother of the well-known South African author and playwright, WA (Bill) de Klerk, was born on 5 November 1919 in Cape Town. He spent his childhood at Clifton’s 4th beach and Sea Point. He attended Jan van Riebeeck primary school, Cape Town, but matriculated from Grey College, Bloemfontein, where he played rugby for the first XV as well as cricket. He obtained BSc at UCT in 1940.

During World War II a split occurred within the ranks of Western Province rugby . It affected student rugby – the issue was whether or not to continue with the traditional rugby Intervarsity between UCT and the University of Stellenbosch. De Klerk found himself in the Pro-intervarsity (Groote Schuur) camp and was elected to officiate as dirigent (cheer leader) at the rugby matches in 1942-3. He qualified MB ChB 1943 and following internship at GSH he became a general practitioner in Beaufort West in partnership with two of his friends who had the colourful sobriquets of Grootkoos (Van der Merwe) and Dingaan (Kirsten).

He remained there from 1945 to 1949, when he proceeded to the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, USA to specialize in Urology under Hugh J Jewett and WW (Bill) Scott (who was the Chairman from 1946 to 1974). According to a reliable source, De Klerk is credited in the records of the institution with a single hydrocoelectomy during the first year of his residency. However, he duly completed his training in 1953, gaining highly rated credits, also in research.

He was supposed to stay for only one year as an intern, but at the end of the first year he applied for (and obtained) a resident post. At a farewell party at the end of his training period he asked WW Scott: ‘What made you decide to appoint me as a resident?’ Bill Scott replied: ‘Well, you had the damned nerve to apply, so I thought I would have the damned nerve to appoint you.’ De Klerk related that, when he arrived, Bill Scott took him to the laboratory and said: ‘If at the end of six months you haven’t come up with a research project to do, come and see me.’ At the end of six months he was doing so much research that he stayed on in the laboratory until the end of the year.

  1. Guy Fawkes Day – a ‘late seventies’ KA had reason to complain about de Klerk’s fiery (at times) nature and referred to his sobriquet: ‘Die naam pas hom goed. Hy is gebore met ‘n ‘cracker’ in sy agterent en dra dit nog steeds’ (lit. The name suits him well, he was born with a cracker in his backside and is still carrying it).
  2. The split in the Western Province Rugby Union occurred as a result of the decision to contribute the gate-takings at matches to the Ouma’s Gift and Comfort Fund, the Patron of which was Issie Ouma Smuts, wife of General JC Smuts. The beneficiaries were the troops at the front in North Africa. The dissidents left the Union to establish the Westelike Provinsie Rugby Bond – to include Stellenbosch University and the Groote Schuur Club. Having been denied the sports facilities at the University of Cape Town, the Groote Schuur Club used the Rondebosch Common for their training sessions.
  3. At some function in honour of Bill Scott it was said: ‘Scott also had an interest in renal transplantation. In the early 1950’s he was the first with Johan de Klerk and H William Scottto use cortisone in an effort to increase the length of survival of heterologous renal transplants in dogs. He recalled the excitement occasioned by the survival of one dog for 21 days, this dog having only one kidney, that of another dog.’

Guy de Klerk established close rapport with eminent American urologists – a prime example was Perry B Hudson of Columbia University, New York. These contacts were later utilized to the benefit of young South African urologists. De Klerk spent eighteen months with FR Kilpatrick (an expatriate) at Guy’s Hospital in London, from where he obtained FRCS (Edin) in 1954. On his return to South Africa he ’hit the Cape Town scene with a flurry’. He soon assembled a substantial private practice at the Medical Centre in Cape Town and took part-time appointments at GSH and KBH. In 1960 at the age of 41 he suffered a massive coronary thrombosis at a rugby test between the Springboks and All Blacks in Bloemfontein, but he made a remarkable recovery.

De Klerk was a master surgeon, as accomplished in endoscopy as in ’open’ surgical procedures . He drilled his Kliniese Assistente to secure the patient themselves in the correct position on the table, to make the appropriate incision, to adhere to disciplined technique and to ensure the safe return of the patient to the recovery room He was a sound clinician, a stimulating teacher and innovative researcher.

De Klerk played a key role in establishing, with WW Scott and Gerald P Murphy, the Johns Hopkins – Stellenbosch University Baboon Facility at KBH to permit controlled experiments in renal transplantation in baboons. It was later expanded to include multidisciplinary projects. It was then commonly referred to as Die Primaatkolonie (The Primate Colony). Gawie Louw was the Male-Nurse-in-Charge of the Cystoscopy Theatre at KBH until the Nursing Authorities decided, in the early 1960’s, that it is improper for a male nurse to be present where females were being ’scoped’. He was ‘transferred’ to the Kolonie where he soon became the most accomplished ’transplant surgeon’. He taught many residents the ’basics’ and several technical ’tricks’ in the harvesting and transplantation of various organs.

De Klerk succeeded Burger as part-time Head of the Department in 1968 and was appointed full-time Professor of Urology in 1972, the first professor in the specialty in South Africa. He was an inspiring and popular chief – though he could be mercurial and unpredictable at times. On many occasions he simply ’skipped up-country’ on Medical Association or Medical Council affairs. Around 1970 a (fed-up) Kliniese Assistent was struggling through a Saturday night at KBH with a 150 kg bled-out male who had had a transurethral resection of multiple bladder tumours by De Klerk at the Volkshospitaal (Volks Hospital) a few days earlier. In exasperation he tried to get hold of De Klerk, just to be told ’He must have forgotten to tell you. He is in Cleveland (USA) with Niklaas Louw to support him with his coronary bypass’.

De Klerk joined MASA in 1958 and was Chairman of the Federal Council from 1974 to 1984. He was also a member of the SAMDC for 12 years, of which he served two years on its Executive. A major achievement of De Klerk at MASA was his role in the re-admission of the organization to the World Medical Association in Lisbon in 1981. ‘Those who were present at the occasion remember the moving speech by De Klerk – ‘a most eloquent man’.

At the Congresses of UASA De Klerk always attended with boisterous enthusiasm – scientifically and socially . He was an ardent reader – and could be busy with 3 to 4 books simultaneously. He was a connoisseur of art and classical music. De Klerk played tennis regularly until he suffered coronary thrombosis. He never missed a rugby match at Newlands when he was able to attend.

In 1982 he had coronary bypass surgery during which he suffered a cerebrovascular accident. He struggled to regain his speech. He retired as Head of the Department at the end of 1984 but remained attached to the Department until 1990.

De Klerk was a member of numerous societies and received many awards and accolades, including the Gold Medal of MASA. The Guy de Klerk Lecture was instituted by UASA in his honour . He died on 11 September 1990 at the age of 70.

JN (Guy) de Klerk became a part-time consultant at GSH on his return to South Africa after training in Urology, first at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, and then at Guy’s.

  1. In the late 1960’s residents, interns and students trailed after De Klerk as he sprinted up the stairs from the 2nd to the 6th floor at KBH.
  2. It was remarked (during a TURP) that if one should measure the ’prostate chips’ resected by De Klerk with callipers all would have the same dimensions.
  3. On 3 December 1967 CN (Christaan) Barnard transplanted the heart of Denise Darvall, a victim of a motor vehicle accident, into Louis Washkansky at GSH – the first human heart transplant. De Klerk, with the assistance of JJW (Kobus) van Zyl of General Surgery, transplanted one of Darvall’s kidneys into Johnathan van Wyk (around 12 years old). It was the first renal transplant at KBH.
  4. De Klerk got on famously with his KA’s – and even tolerated their occasional joke on him. When De Klerk introduced a patient as being his barber, a KA (equally thin on top) interjected ‘Hy het darem ‘n helse gemors van Prof se kuif gemaak’ (lit .he made a helluva mess of Prof’s topknot).
  5. Louw was a colleague and close friend of De Klerk. A year after he qualified, the resident went up North in search of his fortune – De Klerk and he embraced, wept and parted. The patient became the scourge of successive residents.
  6. Long on courage but short on ability, some eminent visitor from overseas at De Klerk’s table at the Kruger National Park got on it to dance – coming too close to the edge … he needed medical attention. Another had to return home prematurely, suffering from ’after effects’.
  7. The idea came from DJ (Dion) du Plessis. Guy de Klerk lecturers to date: WM Laubscher 1991, DJ du Plessis 1993, R Hohenfellner 1995, RC Franz 1997, CF Heyns 1999, ZB Bereczky 2001, JH Naudé 2003, R Santucci 2005.

Hospital, London. He had an immediate and substantial impact on registrar training and introduced many new ideas. He subsequently confined himself to the department at the University of Stellenbosch, where he became the first Professor of Urology in South Africa in 1972.

Click here to download Guy de Klerk’s ethics lecture.

Click here to download Guy de Klerk’s Memorial Lecture 2001.

Click here to download Guy de Klerk’s Memorial Lecture slides and Click here to download slide notes by Dr Johan Naudé.

Click here to watch the Guy de Klerk Lecture – 27 October 2023.