A trip to South Africa 36 years ago

In my final year of medical school we were given a two month period to carry out an elective project of your choice. I spent January and February 1984 in South Africa. I took my first long haul flight there to work at Mseleni Hospital in northern Kwa Zulu; only 60km from the Mozambique border. South Arica was still in the midst of apartheid then, so the medical staff were all missionaries and it was run by the African Evangelical Fellowship. It is now government-run. While I was a student, I had spent my holidays working at a local restaurant. The owner was a member of the local Rotary Club, so they gave me a donation to cover the cost of my flights and I was to give a lecture to them on my return. The hospital provided accommodation and food. A friend lent me his Pentax Spotmatic and I took slides for the lecture. It is only recently while in lockdown and packing up to move house that I found them again and scanned them. The Aberdeen flight shop had recommended Air Portugal to me. I flew from Heathrow to Lisbon. Unfortunately, the connecting flight was delayed so I had a night in Lisbon but only saw a hotel and the airport.

The following day after a refuelling stop in Brazzaville, I arrived in Durban. From there, a Mission Aviation Fellowship plane took me to Mseleni. They also provided transport to distant clinics and took seriously ill people down to the hospital in Durban.

I learned a lot at the hospital helping out with operations, ward reviews and several outlying clinics that we served.

Most of the local Zulus were too poor to own cattle and most of their diet consisted of mealies (corn) and vegetables with a few eggs. The children commonly suffered from Kwashiorkor. We had a unit for their treatment.

A New Zealand scientist was working on a way of increasing protein in the diet. He had tried bringing in guinea pigs from South America but they all died from a virus. He was then trying more successfully with goats. Hence, I added milking goats to my list of skills.

My project was focussed on exploring the reasons for non-compliance with tuberculosis treatment which was an issue in the area. In addition to clinics at places including Mabibi and Mbazwana Forest, I also visited some of the kraals in the area with the community health worker. I had learnt a little Zulu (I still have the phrasebook found in Foyles) but he acted as interpreter.

The hospital was close to Lake Sibhayi which was a pleasant walk to when we had some time off.  You can take a boat on it but hippos are dangerous and could attack it. I often watched the sunset down there and on one occasion acquired a tick bite which gave me tick bit fever which was treated with a tetracycline.

Towards the end of January, two cyclones: Domoima and Imboa crossed the Mozambique channel and travelled inland. The area had the most rain it had had for at least 100 years and there was extensive flooding

The hospital was on a hill with a spring for water, so we were OK although the air strip was out of action and many of the local roads were blocked. The nearby Pongolapoort Dam was at risk of overflowing or breaking so they had to open the flood gates.

We had to treat one man who had been struck by lightning and there were reports of Zulus having climbed up trees to escape the floods but not wanting to go into the rescue helicopters because they had never seen them before. The waters eventually receded and at the end of my time I flew down to Cape Town to visit some South African friends before heading home. It was my first visit to the city, so I took the cable car up Table Mountain for the fantastic views

My friends took me to Fishoek

And the Cape Peninsula

Where baboons regularly attacked cars.

All too soon it was time to return home, write my report, get back to my studies and give a talk to the Rotary Club.