Dr Ansuyah Ratipul Singh was born in Durban, Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal) on 12 June 1917. She was the eldest daughter of Latchmee and Chatrapul Singh. Her parents sent all three of their daughters to the Durban Indian Girls’ School in Dartnell Crescent, which was the first Indian High school for girls. She was part of the first group of five Indian girls to matriculate in South Africa in 1935. Singh then went to the University of Edinburgh where she studied medicine and completed her degree in 1944. Thereafter she worked for two years at hospitals in London.

When she returned to South Africa, she started her own practice. She was involved in the Passive Resistance Movement in Durban in 1946.

In 1956, she was appointed to the Natal Provincial Administration, the first Indian woman in this position. Here she served in both the Department of Social Preventative and Family Medicine and the Department of Gynaecology and Obstetrics at the then University of Natal’s Medical School and the Institute of Family and Community Health at the Clairwood Hospital.

In 1954, she was the first Indian woman to receive a bursary from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1959, she was placed in charge of the antenatal clinic at the King Edward Hospital in Durban. In 1963, Dr Singh founded the Happy Valley Clinic where she and her volunteers worked amongst the poor. Subsequently, the clinic opened branches in Inanda and Phoenix, north of Durban.

Dr Singh wrote numerous professional publications and medical articles, including a survey of hospitals, clinics and social services for the Indian community of Durban (1960) and Emotional factors affecting foetal development which received wide acclaim in the United States of America.

Dr Singh’s novel, Behold the Earth Mourns, (1960) is regarded as the first novel by an Indian author in South Africa. According to the historian, Antoinette Burton, Behold the Earth Mourns presents “a highly racialized topography through which Indians move in concert, and sometimes in collision, with black South Africans.” The novel, set in the 1940s partly in South Africa and in India, tells the story of a Durban man, Srenika Nirvani, whose family is part of the indentured labour system and was politically active. He travels to Bombay to marry an Indian woman from Bombay, Yagesvari Jivan-Sinha. The narratives reveal the complexity of relations not only within a family but with friends, native black Africans and how the dynamics of the self consciousness and the social, economic and political intertwine.

She published numerous other literary works with either a social or political message. Dr. Singh was also a well-known pianist and took part in dramatic productions. Apart from this, Dr. Singh is also the author of two three-act plays. Dr. Singh also lectured widely to students on a range of topics ranging from health and family planning to the arts and the role of women in the Indian community.

A statue of Dr Singh can be seen near the Tongaat Town Hall.

Dr Ansuyah Ratipul Singh died on 27 November 1978.


Verwey, E.J. (ed), (1995), New dictionary of South African biography, (Pretoria) , pp. 225-227|Dept. of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, (2000), Women marching into the 21st century: wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo, (Shereno Printers), p.204

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