Wards of memories at old hospital site

It was a special day for nurses who once worked at the old Peninsula Maternity Hospital as well as members of the District Six community who gathered at the revamped building in Primrose Street, on Saturday May 20, to put up a mural that they had all worked on for several months.

It was an emotional time for all who had ties to the hospital, with the sick and elderly climbing the scaffolding to be part of the mural’s installation.

The mural, funded by the departments of health and public works, details District Six.

Apart from the hospital, it includes the Seven Steps, the Old Cinema House and the Wash House.

District Six residents had attended workshops, funded by the Department of Rural Development, at the Lydia House in Chapel Street, to make the mural, and they were visibly proud of the end result, which was installed on the wall of the renovated building.

The project was facilitated by the District Six Museum.

The Peninsula Maternity Hospital (PMH) was closed in 1992 after District Six was long gone, having been bulldozed many years before.

It was revamped to accommodate the Woodstock Hospital and Robbie Nurock clinic, which will amalgamate to form the District Six Health Facility, due to open later this year.

One of the project facilitators of the project, Jasmina Salie, said the hospital had been instrumental in the lives of District Six.

“They were co-existent. Many District Six people were born here and even though it was a maternity hospital, Peninsula was the first point of call for many.”

She said they wanted to find a way to preserve the memory of the facility. “The mural is filled with important spaces in District Six such as the hospital, the seven steps, the old wash house and the old movie house.

Marina Brinkhuis, from Vanguard Estate, who worked as a nurse at the hospital in 1968, said most of the staff had been moved to Mowbray Maternity Hospital when PMH closed.

“The community came here for other things too, and the thing about Peninsula was that they were also a training hospital, and anywhere you go you will find someone who was trained here.

“I’m glad it will once again serve a community once it’s opened.”

Georgia Blaauw, from Rocklands, worked as a nurse at PMH in 1979.

“This is a big day for me because we are coming back home,” she said. “And during the time that we spent doing the mural, we learnt that we have so many other talents.”

Mymoena Kreysler, who trained in midwifery at PMH in the 1970s, added: “I used to take students through the practicals at the Peninsula hospital, so my connection to the place is very strong.

“I grew up in Constitution Street, and I’ve moved back in terms of restitution. My experiences here were good and bad, but with the hospital, we had such a great team. We had a good connection with Groote Schuur Hospital, so it was a quality service. The government destroyed such a good thing, which was very sad,” she said.

HarrietArendse,from Westridge, who started at PMH as a young nurse in the 1970s, said it was a a joyous occasion to come back to her old workplace.

Another former PMH nurse, Monica Sutherland, of Rondebosch, said it had been a wonderful place to work.

“The residents looked after us and the staff here. I was very upset when it was destroyed. The years I worked here were the best of my life. The staff were so dedicated. Most of us worked overtime without extra pay, but we didn’t mind. There were lots of patients we used to see even after we had knocked off for the day. I’ve made so many lifelong friends in my days here.”

Others were born at PMH and even had their children there.

Jeffery Keshwa, who now lives in Rocklands, grew up in Longmarket Street, and his daughter was born at PMH.

“There’s no emotion that I can attach to what I feel now. My daughter was born here, and one day I accidentally walked away with a fork from the hospital, and today I had an opportunity to bring the fork home and return it to the hospital.”

Susan Lewis, who lives in District Six and grew up in Caledon Street, was born at PMH. “We were moved to Hanover Park at the time when District Six was demolished but returned home a few years ago.

“We are all very emotional, and it’s very sentimental. We all met up here to attend the workshops for the mural, and it’s amazing because we are all still like a family.”

Solly Ariefdien, who now lives in Lansdowne, grew up in Wight Street, and was born at PMH in 1933.

“I am in the process of writing a book about District Six. It means so much to me to be able to be here today. It holds so many memories. My eldest daughter was born here too.”

He recalls that when his daughter was born, he named her Shirene – different to Shireen.

“I remember when I visited and they brought the baby, my wife said, ‘This is not our baby’. And when I looked on the name tag, it was Shireen. We found our daughter and became good friends with Shireen’s parents. It’s good I named her differently, but we made good friends.”

He said he was excited to see the mural installed and at the very same place. “I’m fortunate to be here, but it’s sad because people had to wait so long to come back and to rebuild the community.”

Saadia Kamish, from Athlone, grew up in De Villiers Street. Her son was born at PMH, and she said she still had his nappies, pins and other memorabilia that would be displayed at the District Six Museum.

“My son is in Australia at the moment, and he is so excited for us, but at the same time sad that he can’t be here.

“We can’t wait to see the hospital open again. The memories we have here will be with us forever. I was very happy to be under the mountains, it was like living out my dreams.”

Milly Davids, from Rocklands, grew up in Sterling Street, and had two of her children at PMH.

“We were moved to Hanover Park after the forced removals, and I was in the city to watch the coons when I went into labour and I was sent to Peninsula.

“My second child was also born here due to birth complications. Today is very emotional for me. I couldn’t stay at home today, I would’ve cried the entire day. I am so blessed to be here.”

Nadeema Oostendorp from Southfield lived in District Six, but she and her family were moved to Lavender Hill.

“My mother was very unhappy, she cried every day because she missed her home. She passed away, but when I had my own children, I brought them back home. They went to school here. We needed to come back home.”

Joyce Cloete, who joined the project to support her friend, learnt that her family was from the area. “I was very excited to learn the things I did here and to learn about my family, and to support my friend. I can’t wait to see our work go up.”

By evening, the mural was finally installed and those who had been involved in creating it will return this week to sign it.

Ms Salie said they were working towards getting District Six to be declared a heritage area, and appealed to people to sign the petition at the District Six Museum.