An artist’s impression of the new hospital, to be built on the grounds of the Wits School of Education near the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. (Image: Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital)
Melissa Jane Cook
Madiba was praised for his vision and legacy, which would live on through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. The project took a step closer to fruition when the earthmovers got to work today.
Dignitaries, ministers, distinguished guests and schoolchildren attended a sod turning event held at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Parktown, Johannesburg, on a bright, sunny Thursday, 20 March. This ground-breaking gathering was held in a glamorous white marquee. It was complete with a fun photo booth with colourful accessories and a mindful space where people could choose a picture and write a message of grateful thanks or a tribute to Madiba and attach it to strands of chain. The marquee was overflowing and the atmosphere electric.
Sibongile Mkhabela, the chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust, opened the event, saying she was incredibly honoured to be speaking on this hallowed ground. “In 2009, Madiba sat here, at this space, and blessed and dedicated it to the children of South Africa, and to health care.” Acknowledging everyone present who had contributed in the most generous of ways, she said she would never forget Madiba saying: “As long as there are good men and women in the world, the work will carry on.”
Indeed, the work did carry on and the mandate of the trustees, to raise a billion rand, had almost been realised – the trust has raised R570-million towards building the hospital. It will continue its work until the target is met. “After years of fundraising under difficult economic conditions, we are proud to announce we can break ground and start building a hospital.”
Mkhabela is the head cheerleader of the initiative, and said: “Having followed our beloved Madiba’s mandate of improving the care of our children, we are proud of reaching this milestone and look forward to building this hospital.”
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust officially celebrated the start of the Nelson Mandela Children’s hospital at a sod-turning ceremony, with dignitaries, ministers and children. (Image: Melissa Jane Cook)
It would be a world-class, highly advanced, specialised children’s hospital that would shape the lives of the children in Africa and shape the future of a greater Africa, she said. It would work on a referral basis across all its centres of excellence, which would include pulmonology, cardiology, neurosciences, craniofacial surgery, nephrology and general paediatric surgery.
In addition to giving patients access to world-class health care, the hospital would serve as a training and research facility, which would ensure a much wider reach into the region.
Professor Adam Habib, the vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, said that Wits “will ensure that we have various academic and clinical synergies for the operation of the hospital and for the training and education of high-level clinical paediatric skills in the southern African region”. “The location of the hospital, on Wits land, as well as in close proximity to the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, allows for paediatric academic teaching access from the Wits Medical School, maximising operational efficiencies and staffing models.”
A promise has been made that the facility will never turn away a child because of an inability to pay; rather, it will give them nurturing care. This was the last wish of Madiba and all present at the sod-turning were assured that his legacy would live on through the hospital. There are only four children’s hospitals in Africa – by comparison, there are 20 in Germany alone, 23 in Canada, and 157 in the United States. The Mandela hospital will lead the way and have the best researchers and top academics, and will be at the cutting edge of children’s health research globally.
Mandela was a champion of children’s rights and always believed they were the future; as such, they should be nurtured. In a powerful display of gratitude, youngsters took to the stage and honoured Madiba and his vision.
Michai’h, once a cute two-year-old photographed sitting on Mandela’s knee, is today an ambassador for the children’s hospital and part of the “For kids, by kids” campaign. She stood on stage and said proudly: “We can do this; we can keep his legacy going.” She then threw her fist in the air and shouted their slogan: “Let’s do this.” This campaign is aimed at youth in schools to get them to live Madiba’s legacy by raising awareness and funds for the hospital.
Sam Harding, a high school student, was involved in an advertisement that called for beds and highlighted that the hospital would soon become a reality. Wanting to help – he believes that children can make a difference – he donated part of his pocket money to the hospital.
Watch the Pushing for Beds 60-second ad:
“It always seems impossible, until it is done,” Mandela once famously said. People have given generously to this dream of his, some even taking it a step further. In April 2013, Matt Silver-Vallance attached himself to 200 helium balloons and went on a Balloon Run, drifting across the Cape Town sky from Robben Island to Table Bay. He said we were a living a part of history and this hospital would be a living monument to Madiba.
The list of donors and sponsors is long, yet Mkhabela pointed out that it was not only about money; companies had donated in any way they could. Italtile donated all the sanitary and brass ware; Liberty donated people and office space; Absa created a banking platform for individuals to deposit donations; Barloworld donated diggers and a car – among many others who gave time, money and needed items.
Habib, who said it was Mandela’s event and so addressed the audience as “comrades”, went on a trip down memory lane. He spoke about a young Mandela walking through the university grounds in the 1940s. “This is a place where Mandela learned so much. However, the university treated him wrongly, by saying he could never be a lawyer because of the colour of his skin.
“This event symbolically is saying sorry for any wrong doings, and to make amends, the university is donating the land that the hospital will be built on. We are making amends for 70 years ago.”
The partnership would be three-pronged between the university, the government and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “The collective ills in our society can’t be addressed by any of us, but they can be overcome with collective good,” said Habib. “This hospital is for the services of the population of southern Africa and speaks to the great patriot that Madiba was.”
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi added: “This is a historic day, a historic moment in history. We need to focus on the needs of the children currently and in the future. Today marks the first day Madiba’s dream comes true. We need to protect and nurture our children as he would have done.” He reiterated the government’s support for the legacy project by committing to the operating expenses of the hospital, which would be budgeted through the normal budgeting process of the Department of Health.
The crowds gathered outside among schoolchildren to witness the first spade being struck in the ground and the soil upheaved. Behind the spot, a large green field was waiting, waiting to turn into something glorious, something life-changing. “This is an exciting time for the project, and we encourage global citizens to continue to be part of the living memorial to Madiba’s legacy. Together, we can build this hospital and secure Africa’s hopes of a better future,” said Mkhabela.
Five diggers were ready for their performance, and small children clapped and jumped excitedly. A song about a legacy boomed in the background, as the earthmovers, branded with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital logo, danced across the field, moving in crazy ways and riding up the slope towards the crowd, scooping into the earth and excavating rich, moist soil – opening a space for Madiba’s dream to become reality.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital is expected to open in March 2016.