Using oral, archival and written sources, the book reconstructs the experiences of African women and men working in Zimbabwe’s hospitals in the twentieth century. It demonstrates how African nurses, i.e., nursing assistants, nursing orderlies, medics and State Registered Nurses were the spine of the hospital system and through their work ensured the smooth functioning of hospitals in Zimbabwe. The book argues that African nurses took the opportunity afforded to them by the profession to transform Zimbabwe’s clinical spaces into their own. They were interlocutors between white medical and nursing personnel and African patients and made Africans’ adjustments to hospital settings easier. At the same time, the book moves beyond hospital spaces, interrogating the significance of the nursing profession within African communities, in the process bridging the divide between public and private spaces. The book makes a significant contribution to global nursing historiography by highlighting how Zimbabwean nurses’ experiences within hospitals and beyond clinical spaces speak to the experiences of other nurses within the Southern African region and beyond. Through documenting the stories and histories of African nurses over a period of a century and the various ways in which they struggled and creatively adapted to their subordinate position in hospitals and how they transformed these healing spaces to make them their own, the book suggests that nurses were important historical actors whose encounters and experiences in Zimbabwe’s healing spaces – the hospitals – deserve to be documented.
The chapter examines the role played by nursing assistants, medical assistants, and nursing orderlies in the provision of medical services to Africans during the first half of the twentieth century. It notes that the history of medical auxiliaries allows us to appreciate the importance of a cohort of women and men who not only took up hospital work to improve themselves, but also played an important role in the provision of biomedical services to their fellow Africans. Initially, these medical and nursing auxiliaries were in-house trained and in most cases, the majority of these auxiliaries consisted of recovered patients or early converts. However, the late 1920s saw a significant shift in the training of nurses at mission stations in Southern Rhodesia. With the government’s support, missionaries began to move towards a more professional training of nurses and orderlies, targeting educated young women and men. At the same time, in the 1930s, the government began training their own medical nursing orderlies and the government expected male nursing orderlies to be the bastion of biomedicine in government clinics in African areas. For urban areas, the government began to think of the possibility of training African State Registered Nurses (SRNs). The 1940s saw debates on the training of SRNs and from these debates authorities reached a consensus on the need for the government to train African female SRNs in the process marginalising the possibility of having male SRNs. These discussions set the foundations for African female domination of the nursing services from 1950 onwards.
The post-Second World War era saw significant changes to nursing services in Southern Rhodesia. Key to the transformation in nursing services was the opening up of State Registered Nurse (SRN) training to non-Europeans. Young African women were sent to South Africa for training as SRNs. At the same time, the government began training the first cohorts of non-European nurses at Princess Margaret, Harare (Gomo) and Mpilo hospitals.The chapter argues that while the entrance of non-European women into the SRN profession was in part due to policy changes in the post-Second World War era, the privileging of government’s efforts only tell one side of the story. It obscures non-European nurses’ agency, in the process failing to take into consideration young women’s motives for choosing the profession as a preferred career option. Hence, drawing on oral histories, the chapter explores the varied yet interrelated reasons for choosing nursing as a career, young women’s perceptions of their career, their agency and the socio-economic mobility amongst these young women. It notes that the reason for choosing nursing ranged from the attractive nature of the occupation, the aura associated with nursing, the presence of role models and economic issues. An emphasis of these various motives not only opens up space to explore their hopes and aspirations within the colonial environment, but for nursing history, their recollections are shown as central in the forging of the nursing identity in Rhodesia during the post-Second World war era.
The chapter centres on the historical enquiry of the Africanisation of nursing services in Southern Rhodesia in the wake of the opening up of SRN training to young African women. Besides training SRNs, the government began appointing African nursing tutors and sisters into more senior positions. The chapter argues that as much as this gesture began the gradual dismantling of the industrial colour-bar system that had denied Africans positions of power within the Civil Service, racism within hospitals continued. In fact the hospital remained quintessentially a colonial space – as the hierarchy of authority and the deployment of power within clinical spaces replicated colonial race and class relations. The chapter argues that in such a hostile environment, African nurses carved out a niche for themselves by making workspaces (hospitals) their own. At the same time, nurses’ testimonies suggest that nursing practice within colonial hospitals gave African women an opportunity to reshape cultural perceptions of nursing and the care economy in colonial Zimbabwe.
This chapter reflects on hospitals and nurses during the 1970s’ war. Taking hospitals as a microcosm of Rhodesian society at the time, the chapter suggests that the challenges that faced the nation were also reflected within clinical spaces. The chapter highlights that during the 1970s, hospitals became important sites of struggles being fought in the political arena. Emphasis is placed on racial conflicts within hospitals as reflections of the tensions and anxieties that gripped the nation at war during the 1970s. Besides accentuating racial tension in hospitals, the war had a direct impact on the provision of health services. Urban and rural healthcare workers were affected by the war in various ways. Although urban-based nurses had to cope with patient upsurges and workload increases, it was rural-based nurses, those in the theatre of the struggle, who were affected directly by the war. Just as the ordinary folk in war torn rural Rhodesia, rural-based nurses juggled between two warring armies. In their recollections of the 1970s, nurses stressed that their presence within clinical spaces at the height of the war was central in nursing a nation at war. The chapter ends by examining the provision of care within guerrilla camps. In spite of limited resources within ‘bush hospitals’, nurses and medics working in guerrilla camps played a vital role in the provision of care to freedom fighters and refugees. As with nurses in urban and rural hospitals, they were nursing a nation at war.
This chapter examines the trajectories of nursing from 1980–96. It notes that after independence, the new government introduced several changes to hospital spaces. These included dismantling colonial policies, in the process opening up hospitals to Zimbabweans of all races and social classes. The government also accelerated the Africanisation of key structures within the hospital system and nursing services and improved nurses’ working conditions. However, hospitals continued to experience numerous challenges inherited from the colonial period: lack of investment and for the nurses, increased workloads. The situation took a massive turn in the early 1990s when the government adopted the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, which resulted in a reduction in public sector investment, affecting the nurses’ capacity to provide services. At the same time, the emergence of the HIV/AIDS menace, complicated the situation. Working conditions deteriorated, real wages declined and nurses experienced increased workloads by the mid-1990s. Nurses were not passive victims of their situation. They employed various strategies to cope with the changing working environment. Some nurses joined the private sector or migrated abroad, while the majority remained in the public sector – providing medical care. The most controversial of all responses were the 1996 strikes, which seemed to deviate from the traditional notions of nursing as vocation vis-à-vis a profession. While authorities emphasised the nature of the profession and patients’ rights in their response to the strikes, the nurses positioned themselves as workers demanding the right to determine the best way to execute their duty to the community.
This chapter draws the main conclusions and reflects upon the significance of studying African nurses to nursing history within former settler colonies and international nursing history. The chapter also points to areas that need further research centred on the following themes: gender, race and the role of professional nursing organisations. In relation to gender, it calls for a need to explore the history of male nurses beyond mining and the war, which have traditionally been dominated by men thus can be considered as male spaces by exploring the experiences of male nurses in ordinary hospitals. An analysis of male nursing outside the ambit of mining and the military in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa will further complicate the discourse around nursing and masculinities within nursing historiography. Related to race, the chapter highlights the need for a further examination of white nurses, coloured nurses and nurses of Asian descent. An inclusion of these racial clusters in nursing history can be used as a point of entry into examining similarities and differences in experiences for nurses based on race across time and space. Lastly, nurses as other workers, organised to fight for their rights and influence policies that affected their daily work within hospitals. The chapter notes that an investigation of the areas mentioned above and other neglected themes in nursing history will add a further layer to the role of nurses in the history of Zimbabwe, the region and the world.
This chapter introduces the central thesis, supporting arguments, sources, methods and the significance of the work to nursing history in colonial and post-colonial societies in particular and global nursing history in general. The analysis around nurses’ daily experiences is framed around questions that focus on the centrality of African nurses in the provision of care during the period under study, and understanding as well as disentangling the complex relations between nurses themselves as well as between nurses and their superiors. It proffers the need to move beyond hospitals, exploring what the profession offered to those who practised it and societal expectations of nurses. The chapter highlights the need to appreciate that nurses’ struggles – within and outside clinical spaces – were part of the broader national struggles during the period under study. In the process, the chapter engages literature on colonial and post-colonial nursing history that has not only examined the various ways in which nursing and hospitals became sites of race, class and gender and ethnic struggles, but also focused on nurses who occupied the lower rungs of the profession, giving voice to those silenced in nursing historiography. Oral, archival and secondary material constitute the evidentiary base for the reconstruction of nursing history in Zimbabwe.