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History of Lower Umfolozi Regional War Memorial Hospital

The Hospital started as a three roomed wood and iron shack in the backyard of the home of Dr G K Moberly in 1912.  He was the second District Surgeon of the area. Born in England in 1871, and qualifying as a doctor in Edinburgh he first came to Ladysmith in 1895.  He then opened a practice in Eshowe in 1902 before moving to Empangeni on 9 June 1911.

At the end of the First World War the inhabitants of Empangeni, strongly urged by Dr Moberly, decided that their war memorial would be a hospital.  A hospital committee under the chairmanship of magistrate Col R M Tanner was set up.  The mill subscribed; the ZSM Company donated 259 pounds; the St Lucia Milling Company at Umfolozi river 200 pounds and Sir L Huletts and Sons Limited, 100 pounds.

The planters (farmers) instituted a voluntary levy of half-penny per ton sugar cane while the government subscribed on a pound for pound basis. The contractor was D R Buchanan and Thomas Watt the Minister of the Interior laid the foundation stone on 4 November 1919.

The first building of the hospital was completed in September 1920.  It was used as nurses’ quarters and could also accommodate six patients until the second building was completed in February 1921.  The construction of the third building was delayed because of a lack of funds.  The first two building of the hospital cost 8 317 pounds and were officially opened on 3 March 1921 by the Administrator of Natal, G T Plowman.

The names of the men of Lower Umfolozi who died during the war were commemorated on a plaque donated by G Armstrong.  Two wards were endowed, namely Armstrong ward by the Armstrong family and Woman’s War Relief Ward.  The Woman’s War Relief Ward was to commemorate the work done by the woman of the Empangeni and Umhlatuzi Women’s War Relief Association.  The Association raised and distributed the sum of approximately 10 000 pounds, which was the largest for any district in Zululand.  Among the fund raising methods was the annual Hospital Ball.  A sizeable amount was left at the end of the war and was donated towards the building of a war memorial (hospital).

During March 1964 there was a threat to close the hospital.  Due to the shortage of staff the Empangeni Hospital Advisory Board was given 57 hours notice to close the white section of the hospital.

Crisis in  1992

A shocking announcement was made in September 1992 that the hospital was facing closure due to lack of funds.  This caused wide spread reaction throughout the private, business and industrial sector of the region.  A delegation met with the MEC of Hospital Services, Mr Peter Miller.  The delegation agreed that the community would accept the responsibility for the hospital’s functioning.

Rationalisation of services

The hospital amalgamated with Ngwelezana Hospital in 1998 to become one Region Hospital Complex.  On 1 April 1998, obstetrics and gynaecological services moved over to LUDWM hospital.  All other disciplines moved to Ngwelezana hospital.  This was the culmination of discussions and negotiations between Top Management at Head Office, Hospital Management of both hospitals, Organised Labour, the Hospital Boards and the community.

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