A Mission to Nurse

The mission hospital’s role in the development of nursing in South Africa c.1948–1975

Authored by: Helen Sweet

Routledge Handbook on the Global History of Nursing

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415594271
eBook ISBN: 9780203488515
Adobe ISBN: 9781135049751


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This chapter traces the development of nursing in the deprived rural areas of South Africa served by a range of mission hospitals from different denominations, from the beginning of official apartheid in 1948 through to their take-over by the “Bantustan” governments in the mid-1970s. It explores the development of nursing in South Africa, asking what was the role of mission hospital nursing (found primarily in rural areas) within this troubled political history of South Africa during the mid-twentieth century. Mission hospitals were of particular significance to nursing history in this country as, for many years, they constituted the main training centers for black South African nurses and the main providers of biomedical healthcare for black South Africans. This chapter asks: what were the personal, professional and political dilemmas faced by foreign missionary nurses within South African nursing and what were their main roles? Also, how were African nurses able to develop professionally while working under the constraints of the apartheid system during the period 1948–1975? Finally it considers the role of the mission hospital in the history of nurse training and employment during this period.

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