Hamilton Naki, a self-trained surgical assitant, started his career as a gardener, and developed into what has been described as an “extraordinary teacher and surgical craftsman”. In honour of Mr Naki and his contribution towards organ transplant research at the Surgical Research Centre of the University of Cape Town “Given the opportunity, Mr Naki would have been a better surgeon than me,” world famous heart surgeon Dr Christiaan Barnard is reported to have said about Hamilton Naki. In a 1993 interview with Associated Press, Dr Barnard, who performed the world’s first heart transplant, said, “Mr Naki has skills I don’t have … If Hamilton had had the opportunity to perform, he would have probably become a brilliant surgeon.”
When asked by a reporter how he learned his impressive surgical skills without any formal training, Naki famously said, “I stole with my eyes.”
Emeritus Professor Rosemary Hickman and former head of UCT’s JS Marais Laboratory, has said of Naki, “Despite his limited conventional education, he had an amazing ability to learn anatomical names and recognize anomalies. He became principal surgical assistant of the laboratory because of his remarkable skill and dexterity.”
Hamilton Naki was known as a very dedicated worker who “hardly missed a day of work in his career and was always immaculately dressed,” wrote Anwar Suleman Mall, medical scientist and Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery at UCT, who worked with Naki. He was also known for his wonderful sense of humour, for sharing his knowledge freely, and as someone who, in spite of difficult circumstances, always saw things in a positive light.