The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) started a mission at Rietvlei
during the 1930’s. Soon the need for a health service became obvious. Medical
work was first done in a rondavel by missionary sisters, e.g. sister Vorster. De
Kock and Viljoen during the 1940’s. Doctors from Isilimela and St. Margaret’s
Hospital visited Rietvlei periodically, but the need for a resident doctor was
soon felt. On the 1st December 1956 a missionary hospital with 36 beds was
opened by Rev. B. Wooding and on the same day the first resident doctor, in the
person of Dr. Gerrit ter Haar from the Netherlands, was welcomed.
For ten years Dr. ter Haar worked alone. During this time a children’s ward as well as a tuberculosis section were built (1959). In 1962 recognition was obtained from the S.A Nursing Council to train Auxiliary nurses.
Other doctors joined the staff. In 1966 Dr/ Sam Fehrson and in 1968 Dr. Alec Stewart joined. During the next ten years community work became a big priority and clinics were started throughout the district. Recognition for training of midwives was obtained in 1968.
The training was done mainly by doctors, matron Ginya and sister Xaxa. The first tutor was Mrs. Shai, started in November 1974 and from that time onwards, general nurses (sisters) were also trained at Rietvlei.
More doctors joined the medical staff and the Hospital was enlarged to its present size, by adding medical, Isolation and maternity ward. Other additions were X ray, physiotherapy, laundry, out patients and theatre departments. A dream came true when a modern three storey nurse’s home was opened in 1973; but the plan of the three storey nurses hospital never materialized because of economic restrictions. However, individual sections e.g. a theatre extension, X ray rooms, physiotherapy, offices, out – patients and laundry were added gradually, some in prefabricated buildings.
With the introduction of the Comprehensive hospital Centered Health Services in 1974, a major change took place when Umzimkulu District as a whole became the responsibility of the hospital. Permanent clinics, school nursing services, mobile clinics and other community based services were started.
In 1976 with independence, the hospital came under the control of the Transkei Department of Health and ceased to be mission hospital. Doctors and all staff members, including hospital secretaries, works foreman etc, were from now on appointed by the Transkei Government, The training of registered nurses and midwives, continued under the auspices of the Transkei Nursing Council.
To conclude Rietvlei has grown from the single rondavel a well established 250 bedded hospital, with extensive community services operating under its control, with eight permanent clinics, a school team visiting 145 schools and two mobile teams with 31 treatment points. It also serves as a referral hospital surrounding districts. The laboratory serves the surrounding hospitals and outbreaks of infectious diseases like typhoid fever can be monitored on a bacteriological level. A specialist eye team visits the hospital five times in a year. Many students from all over the world visited the hospital or have done their elective period here.
Today the hospital employs many other people apart from medical staff, labourers, domestic drivers, skilled and semiskilled workers. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Rietvlei Hospital is the strong personal relationships and team spirit among its members, developed over years and reinforced by the stability of the senior staff, who ensured continuity in the work, many of whom have been at Rietvlei for more than 10 years. This stability is epitomized by Dr. ter Haar who is still here after 30 years.
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