Maki­wane’s legacy goes far be­yond nurs­ing

Daily Dispatch - - Opinion - SON­WA­BILE MAN­CO­TYWA

OUR lives con­tinue from day to day and most peo­ple tend not to think about their health, their most pre­cious pos­ses­sion.

The naked eye may con­vince us that all is well, that noth­ing is un­to­ward. So­cial life, friends, fam­ily, work – for the most part, these are the things we think about.

But all may not be well with one’s health. We turn away from the thought that a headache could ac­tu­ally be the symp­tom of a brain tu­mour; a stom­ach ache could in­di­cate can­cer; a small cough might be the first sign of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

But sud­denly an in­di­vid­ual may have to face the fact that their life is hang­ing by a thread, and that they are in des­per­ate need of care from med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, nurses and doc­tors alike, ded­i­cated to sav­ing our lives.

This was the cause to which Ce­cilia Maki­wane, the first reg­is­tered black nurse in South Africa – born and raised in the East­ern Cape town of Alice in 1880 – ded­i­cated her life.

Maki­wane be­came a bea­con of light for the peo­ple of Alice, af­ter pass­ing her Colo­nial Med­i­cal Coun­cil ex­am­i­na­tion on Jan­uary 7 1908.

Soon af­ter, and for a num­ber of years – though, trag­i­cally, all too few – she ap­plied her skills as a nurse at Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal, Lovedale Mis­sion, serv­ing the peo­ple of Alice and the sur­round­ing vil­lages.

It was an area of wide­spread poverty where there was a pro­found need for med­i­cal treat­ment.

As the first pro­fes­sion­ally qual­i­fied black nurse, her skills were much in de­mand.

She could eas­ily have cho­sen to move to one of the mush­room­ing met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas of South Africa, where min­ing and other eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties gen­er­ated an in­tense de­mand for med­i­cal and other ser­vices. No doubt this would have af­forded her many pro­fes­sional and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

But she chose to con­tinue to work in Alice.

And Alice, for all its so­cio-eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties, was also a Chris­tian mis­sion en­vi­ron­ment. Though not free of colo­nial pa­ter­nal­ism, it re­sisted the ex­treme racism that char­ac­terised many parts of South Africa.

Again, con­sid­er­ing her place and time, Maki­wane was a well ed­u­cated black woman. She was armed with a teacher’s cer­tifi­cate from Lovedale prior to un­der­tak­ing her nurs­ing stud­ies.

She could have gone into the teach­ing pro­fes­sion. Noth­ing was stop­ping her.

It would in fact, have been the log­i­cal thing to do at the time – it was a “safe op­tion”, a path fol­lowed by most ed­u­cated black women.

How­ever, with hu­mil­ity but also with dis­tinc­tion, she chose to serve peo­ple as a nurse and reg­is­tered for a three-year nurs­ing course at Lovedale Col­lege in 1903.

And peo­ple placed their lives in her hands.

Maki­wane, how­ever, was not just a nurse. She was po­lit­i­cally con­scious, a torch­bearer for women’s eman­ci­pa­tion in South Africa.

Her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the women’s an­tipass cam­paign in March 1912 is a case in point.

She was, af­ter all, a daugh­ter of Lovedale, an in­sti­tu­tion that sym­bol­ised a non-racial so­ci­ety, al­beit with some racial un­der­tones char­ac­ter­is­tic of the time.

The re­li­gious ideal of a world where men and women, black and white were equal in the sight of the Lord en­cour­aged the likes of Maki­wane to strug­gle for a more equal, just and hu­mane so­ci­ety.

Per­haps in the con­text of the time this was a Utopian dream. South Africa was char­ac­terised by racial op­pres­sion and the sub­ju­ga­tion of black peo­ple.

How­ever, peo­ple such as Maki­wane pointed to­wards a bet­ter world, one for which later gen­er­a­tions were to con­tinue to strug­gle.

Sadly, her un­timely death in 1919, at the ten­der age of 39, robbed the coun­try and her com­mu­nity of a re­mark­able pi­o­neer.

The irony is that while Ce­cilia Maki­wane was al­tru­is­ti­cally car­ing for oth­ers, her own health failed her. This re­sulted in her early death. She was in­deed a wounded healer who em­bod­ied self­less­ness and ubuntu.

The peo­ple of the East­ern Cape have pro­duced lead­ers from all walks of life in­clud­ing the health pro­fes­sion. Maki­wane is prom­i­nent among them. A ma­jor hos­pi­tal in Mdantsane, East Lon­don, is named af­ter her. The nurses serv­ing at Ce­cilia Maki­wane Hos­pi­tal to­day should model them­selves on Maki­wane. They should hold their heads high and take pride in their pro­fes­sion.

They should re­main mind­ful that they are serv­ing in a health­care in­sti­tu­tion named af­ter South Africa’s ded­i­cated first black pro­fes­sional nurse.

Such nurses should be aware that the lives of their pa­tients, as was the case with Maki­wane in her time, are firmly in their hands.

The gov­ern­ment’s slo­gan of Batho Pele speaks di­rectly to them.

On the other hand, our coun­try’s cit­i­zens ought to re­spect our nurses, as they work tire­lessly to en­sure that we are in good health.

This is cru­cial as we strug­gle to shed the legacy of apartheid char­ac­terised by a seg­re­gated health sys­tem, and trans­form it into a non-racial one, ac­ces­si­ble to all.

This is a vi­sion which Maki­wane, with­out doubt, would have em­braced.

As the na­tion cel­e­brates Her­itage Month, we should com­mem­o­rate the life and times of Ce­cilia Maki­wane and her out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to hu­man­ity.

Her statue at Vic­to­ria Hos­pi­tal, Lovedale, con­tin­ues to re­mind our peo­ple of her in­deli­ble legacy.

She is also com­mem­o­rated by a statue at the Ce­cilia Maki­wane Hos­pi­tal.

These memo­ri­als are wor­thy to form part of the net­work of her­itage and tourism sites of which the East­ern Cape is so rich.

Be­yond this, Maki­wane’s deeds should be etched into the minds of our chil­dren, and to para­phrase Sindiswa Mag­ona, their chil­dren and their chil­dren’s chil­dren.

The his­tory of hero­ines such as Maki­wane should also form part of the school cur­ricu­lum.

There is no bet­ter time to do this than now, when gov­ern­ment is call­ing for all our his­tory to be placed squarely in the school cur­ricu­lum.

We must en­sure that Ce­cilia Maki­wane, and oth­ers like her, are never erased from our na­tional mem­ory.

Son­wa­bile Man­co­tywa is the CEO of the Na­tional Her­itage Coun­cil

Pic­ture: ALAN EA­SON.

WATCH­FUL: The statue of Ce­cilia Maki­wane staff at the hos­pi­tal back in 2007

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