MAHLABATHINI : AUGUST 24, 2001
It is indeed a pleasure for me to participate in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Nkonjeni Hospital. I am honoured to attend and to express my congratulations personally on this occasion. Today, I have taken a short moment away from the Annual Conference of the Youth Brigade of my Party, which I attend each year in recognition of its great importance to the IFP and to the youth of South Africa. I felt it necessary, however, that I be here with the community of Nkonjeni to share this special event, even if only for a brief time. I have been associated with Nkonjeni Hospital for several decades and would not have wished to miss this milestone event in its long history.
Nkonjeni Hospital stands next to my home. It is a familiar sight to me and over the years I have grown very fond of sharing a dialogue with its doctors and nursing staff. I am exceptionally proud of this institution for it has stood for 75 years, serving the community of Nkonjeni and the greater Mahlabathini district. I believe that the secret of its long standing lies in the foundational principles which established this hospital and continue to characterise its operation even today. These are the principles of dedicated service and a commitment to meeting human needs and allaying suffering. The focus has never shifted from being primarily a place of healing and, in this, Nkonjeni Hospital has proved itself a champion in its field.
On an occasion such as today's celebration, I cannot help looking back and in doing so I feel that I must pay a special tribute to the founding missionaries of the Norwegian Missionary Society of the Lutheran Church. When I arrived in this district from Nongoma where I grew up, I found Sister Ostveit and Sister Marta Breiland who were in charge of the hospital. The founder of the Hospital, Sister Marta Palm, had long since retired. I had the privilege of meeting this gallant lady when she visited the Hospital from Norway. During that visit, there were many things that had changed in the hospital, some of which distressed her. One such change which Sister Palm did not quite appreciate, was to see a small building which served as a kitchen for the hospital being knocked down to make way for a new one. She recalled that she had raised one hundred pounds from Norway to have it built. I pay tribute to these gallant ladies who left a sophisticated society in Norway because of their commitment to Christ, to come to what was still a backward country, to serve God's people and to spread the good news of the Gospel.
We were all very excited when the first doctor arrived. This was Dr Christofer Svamoe Hafstad and his beautiful wife Vesla Hafstad. There were other sisters whom I remember, such as Sister Kristi Fykse, who was here for many years. Other doctors who followed Dr Hafstad included Dr Ottar Odegaard and his lovely wife Ase, and their children. They were later succeeded by Dr Odegaard, a lady doctor not related to the other. There are other names too numerous to mention here. We pay tribute to all these servants of God and thank them for their service to our people. We thank God for their services to God's people in our part of the world. Later, medical students from our own medical school in Durban came to work here during their holidays and to serve their internship. I remember Dr Denis Madide amongst those who came to work here during his vacation, who was later our Minister of Health in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government. I remember Dr Motaung who served as one of our doctors and Dr Sokhulu, amongst others. I remember our first black matron, Dr Eunice Mtshali-Buthelezi. Later the Hospital opened its doors to the training of nurses.
The Hospital operated under very difficult circumstances where it depended on its own engine for lights, which sometimes gave trouble. But fortunately there was Reverend Haldorsen who often helped to correct whatever problem there was with the engine. There was also the problem of water. And I remember as a member of the Hospital Board what a great event it was when the dam just below the hospital was built. It was, however, only adequate for a very short time. I remember how Dr Hafstad and the matron often worried whenever it rained because no vehicle could drive up the Mayiwane Hill and that meant no bread and other supplies for the patients. This was long before the uphill road was tarred which occurred quite recently. On one occasion, my late cousin, King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon, had visited me at KwaPhindangene and because it was wet, he spent the night in his car at the Mayiwane Hill. So much for these hardships.
The success of this hospital over 75 years is truly a victory for the men and women who have kept it running on a day-to-day basis. This is not a rich hospital, nor does it have the resources it would require to purchase or replace sufficient equipment, retain adequate medical supplies or employ enough professional staff to completely meet the needs of its community. This is the case for many hospitals throughout South Africa, which is not to say that a valiant effort is not made or that needs are not met. I believe this hospital may take great pride in having done so much with so little. It is a testimony to the resourcefulness and dedication of its staff. Yet I am constantly left saddened by the knowledge that the means do not always match the will within our country’s service institutions.
This is an evil we have fought for many years. During my time as Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, I recall how precious little funding was received from Pretoria to build and operate schools, hospitals and clinics. I worked hand in hand with our poorest communities to raise money towards these projects, and together we built the necessary facilities that otherwise we would never have had. During that time I came to know the strength of community solidarity and the enormous capacity within our people of self-help, self-reliance and human dignity. Although we have now gained democracy and begun a campaign of development and all-inclusive equality and social justice, there remains the difficulty of insufficient resources to meet the vast ocean of existing needs. While the will is there, the means is still tragically limited.
Today, I continue my work for greater provincial autonomy over matters such as health care, for I have learned through experience that communities know best how to put resources to practical use and do not require to be dictated to by a distant and central government. I feel that the 75 years of success celebrated by Nkonjeni Hospital today speaks of this very truth. Without competent men and women at the reins of this institution, limited resources would never have been adequate to operate Nkonjeni Hospital. On this occasion, I take the opportunity to applaud both past and present members of staff whose contributions of time, effort and commitment have made this hospital a community success story.
Institutions such as this have played a pivotal role in the fight against disease and ignorance in rural communities. I have always said that a lack of knowledge and a lack of health go hand in hand, for many of our people suffer malnutrition and disease simply because they are unaware of the need for preventative care and lead unbalanced lifestyles. Many remain ignorant of the symptoms of disease or the methods of ongoing treatment, and fail to seek medical attention or continue a course of treatment once started. The single greatest weapon we have against the spread of disease and malnutrition among our people, is information. I believe that medical institutions should become places of information as much as of medical care.
In this regard, I must mention the courageous work accomplished by Nkonjeni Hospital during the recent cholera outbreak which hit this area very hard. In this time of crisis, hundreds of people relied on the staff of this institution who worked constantly in extremely trying circumstances. I know that they must often have been exhausted, yet they continued attending to patients and distributing information on prevention, detection and treatment for as long as they were needed. This epidemic has not yet disappeared. But I must congratulate Nkonjeni Hospital for working at the forefront of the fight against cholera. Many lives have been saved by effective and timely treatment, and many more are spared through information campaigns.
Information is perhaps also our best means of fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, the single most daunting threat we face in the new millennium. Left unchecked, the burden on hospitals is set to increase dramatically and the situation may become untenable if allowed to escalate. Even Nkonjeni Hospital will already have seen a rise in the number of patients admitted for AIDS related illnesses. If we do not take a firm stand against this disease, Nkonjeni Hospital will suffer the fate of many hospitals in rural and urban areas throughout South Africa. It would be a tragedy to see 75 years of service end in a few more years from an inability to cope with the overwhelming HIV/AIDS burden. In my own fight against this disease, I am fighting not only to see people remain healthy, but to see South Africa saved from a weakened position, and hospitals such as Nkonjeni protected from a burden it is ill-equipped to manage.
Nkonjeni Hospital has earned its rightful place as a respected institution of this community. I hope that today’s celebrations, while remembering a past of great achievement, may recognise the tremendous role this hospital still has to play in the future of this district. It would bring me great pride to see Nkonjeni Hospital still standing next to my home twenty years from now. Yet I believe that this will require a concerted effort from within this community and from the future staff of the hospital. I would wish every member of this community to make a commitment towards good health and to pursue information towards preventative care. Let us not allow ignorance to place an undue burden on Nkonjeni, but let us ensure that it may remain a leader in the health care field.
It is my sincere wish that the standard of dedication to serving at Nkonjeni Hospital shall continue into its future, fulfilling a necessary and vital role in the life of this community. For 75 years, Nkonjeni Hospital has provided medical attention. For 75 years, it has been a place of physical healing and care. For 75 years, people in this community and from the surrounding district, have trusted the staff at Nkonjeni because they trust an institution which has become a household name. I am proud to be associated with this hospital and I wish it every success in the years to come.
Today, it is my pleasure to congratulate Nkonjeni Hospital on 75 years of outstanding achievement. I look forward to many more.