The outbreak of the Second World War in Europe in 1939 with the consequent
spread of hostilities to the Middle and Far East resulted in the government
deciding to establish a Military Hospital (Enkambini the Military Camp Zulu’s
equivalent) and Convalescent Depot in Natal. Howick was selected and approaches
were made to the Town Board for suitable land in an endeavor to assist the War
effort in every way possible, the people of Howick agreed to sell 121 acres of
their Town Lands and building commenced almost immediately.
With the cessation of hostilities, the Military Hospital and Convalescent Depot finally closed in October 1945, which ushered in a four-year period of negotiation between the Town Board, Military Authorities and Government departments regarding the ownership and usage. The establishment had been declared surplus to Military use. The Department of Health wished to purchase it from the Town Board and convert it into an Institution for white mentally defective children. On the 5th of August 1947 a crowded public meeting in the SAWAS Hall (in Howick CBD) voted with only 7 dissentients to approve the conversion of the Military Hospital into a home for white mental defectives.
A letter dated, 07 June 1949 from the Commissioner for Mental Hygiene in Pretoria officially re-designated the “Howick Military Hospital and Convalescent Depot” as Umgeni Waterfall Institution this to take effect from 01 April 1950. 1982 saw the change in the official name of the hospital to Midlands Hospital (Umgeni). Four years earlier Umgeni had become amalgamated with the psychiatric hospitals in Pietermaritzburg i.e. Fort Napier and Townhill into the Midlands Hospital Complex resulting from this Umgeni Hospital became known as a Care and Rehabilitation Centre for a few years.
The first patients were admitted on 16 September 1950; in 1957 the first Non-White patients were admitted to the Institution. The number of Non-White patients reached almost 1300 and in 1968/69 they were removed to other centers.
By 1970 Umgeni had been served by a number of notable practitioners and officials. The first Matron was Ms Boltman who had come to Umgeni from Witrand Hospital. The longest serving Medical Superintendent was Dr AP Nelemans (1911-1997) who practiced at Umgeni Hospital between 1972-1997. In his honour the Umgeni family named the entrance to the hospital’s workshop the ‘Dr Nelemans Way’.
The first Occupational Therapist employed at Umgeni was Ms Faytie Martyn, who practiced at the Hospital between 1972 and 1982. The latter therapy increased and gradually improved to the level that Umgeni Patients time and time again won prizes and awards at the Pietermaritzburg Royal Agricultural Show.
In 1979 the government provided a considerable number of new
buildings and equipment to the existing Umgeni Hospital, the newest wing of the
Hospital comprising wards C, D1, D2, and E, a new central dining room, nurses
residence, physiotherapy department, dispensary and adjacent offices were all
officially opened on 17 July 1979.
In 1999 history was made when Umgeni Hospital officially celebrated its 50th anniversary. This has proved to be one of the major interests that have taken place at Umgeni Hospital.
This hospital also maintains the War Memorial Cemetery which is across the street. The Memorial Cemetery is for the solders who died in the 2nd World War. At this institution there is a garden of remembrance for the patients who died not having relatives and it was donated by the Friends of Umgeni.
The patients will infinitely remain the most important aspect in the life of Umgeni Hospital hence they (patients) keep on binding us together.
Up until today the most dedicated staff has served the hospital and that legacy will continue
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