Thursday, 12 January 2017

Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital opens in Johannesburg

Last month, the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital opened in Johannesburg.  Piet Grobler and I are absolutely delighted that some of Piet's illustrations and the stories I retold in our Aesop's Fables and Who is King? Ten Magical Tales from Africa appear as murals on some of the hospital's walls. I feel sure that Madiba would have loved the wisdom and wit in these ancient tales. I think he would have enjoyed our South African setting for Aesop's tales. I'm also sure that he would have endorsed the moral of The Farmer and his Children (above): "Work is the real treasure"!

Making this new hospital a reality has involved not only vision but a huge amount of work. Aesop's story of The Grasshopper and the Ants (below) might well ring a few bells...

 In 2005, Madiba expressed his wish that the Nelson Mandela Children's Trust should help improve medical care for children. The idea of a specialist hospital in Johannesburg was born. The only other children's hospital in South Africa was nearly 900 miles away in Cape Town.

In 2009, my old university, Wits, donated the land. It happens to be only a fifteen minute walk from the old Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital where I was born. The Queen Vic hasn't been in use for many years but this picture of it (below) was taken in the 1960s when hospitals in apartheid South Africa were segregated. That knowledge will always be a terrible part of our history.

Just behind the old Queen Vic (although not visible in the photo) stands Constitution Hill. This is the site of our wonderful Constitutional Court next to three of apartheid's prisons of terror: The Old Fort, 'Number Four' and The Women's Jail. The Constitutional Court includes the original bricks from the destroyed Awaiting Trial Block. You can read more about this extraordinary site, embodying the best and the worst of SA's history here.

A sick child lies at the heart of Journey to Jo'burgWhen 13 year old Naledi eventually gets to a hospital with Mma carrying the children's very ill baby sister, she sees a young mother being handed a plastic bag. It contains her dead child. Such things happened time and again under apartheid. Madiba was among the many political prisoners, black and white, who spent time incarcerated in those brutal cells on what is now Constitution Hill. For the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital (NMCH) to be built less than a mile away carries a special meaning. A vision of humanity can survive inhumanity.

The NMCH Trust, under its chairperson Graca Machel, set out to raise 1 billion rand (around 70 million pounds) to make the vision a reality. Young people too have been involved in fundraising via 'For Kids By Kids' . The Trust declares that "No child in need of care at this hospital will be turned away."  Beds are limited and needs are great but let us hope that this ideal will always be the hospital's guide.

Piet and I will be happy if our murals give both pleasure and food for thought. Every time that I tell Aesop's story of The Lion and the Warthog, in which a vulture waits for the spoils of the fight, I always speak of South Africa's good fortune to have had the humane wisdom of someone like Nelson Mandela. It is indeed safer to be friends than enemies. But the challenges of inequality and poverty remain great. These are challenges for everyone.  Just as for the ants and the children of the farmer in those tales from over 2500 years, there's still much work ahead.