The Medical Services of Rhodesia in 1966 put the Western World to Shame in 2022
Rhodesia was formed in 1890 by the British South Africa Company. Prior to that it was inhabited by a scattering of indigenous tribes largely displaced by the arrival of predominantly two ethnic Bantu tribes – the Shona approximately 300 years earlier and the Matabele approximately 70 years earlier. These two ethnic Bantu tribes were at permanent war, all signs of previous civilization by another race, most likely middle eastern, had been left in ruins for centuries.
With this backdrop it is extraordinary what a small group of ethnic Europeans achieved within a few years for the benefit of all races. This article looks at the Medical Services in Rhodesia and how they grew so rapidly due to the courage, resilience and ethics of a few thousand ethnic Europeans.
Initial medical facilities were established to service the fledgling agricultural, mining and commercial community. These facilities were extended to the ethnic Bantu communities who resisted them in favour of their traditional witch doctors. Unusual for Africa, these medical services were not dependent on Church Missions though they would play an important role.
Post WWI – 1918 to 1964
WWI, and later WWII, hampered the development of Rhodesia. However post-WWI there was an increase in ethnic European immigration which gave the fledgling nation another wave of splendid development.
The 1921 census revealed a total population of 899,187. The ethnic European population had grown from a handful to 33,620 in 30 years. The ethnic Bantu population rose from 400,000 to 863,000. This included 100,530 ethnic Bantu immigrants from neighbouring territories.Official Year Book of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia, No. 1, 1924 (Art Printing and Publishing Works, Salisbury, 1924)
The completion of two large, state of the art hospitals to service the ethnic-Bantu population was one of Rhodesia’s crowning achievements. Numerous smaller hospitals and medical clinics had also been built to service rural communities. These were free to the ethnic Bantu population but not the ethnic Europeans. It was only around 1960 that small fees were charged to the ethnic Bantu population and only if they could afford it.
With the advent of these hospitals the Rhodesian government had the curative infrastructure firmly established and started to focus on the preventative infrastructure. This required more investment in community development. However, there were significant challenges. This period also marked a massive increase in demand for Medical Services by the ethnic-Bantu population. Though this proved the efforts of the ethnic-Europeans in the previous 20+ years to be a success it was also going to be a massive feat to match demand:
- The ethnic-Bantu population had already doubled in 30 years, largely due to Cecil Rhodes brokering a peace deal between the two-warring ethnic-Bantu tribes allowing each to remain in their existing territories unmolested. Also, the growth in agricultural and industrial development provided reliable food, income and medical care access, all previously unknown.
- The ethnic-Bantu population had not been required to contribute to the capital or running costs. In the early 1960’s those that could afford it were charged token fee for certain services at a sub-economic level. The burden of development and finance was on the minority ethnic European population.
- Post-Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia chose to try and bring Northern Rhodesia up to par. Again, at the effort and expense of the ethnic European population.
It is remarkable that from arrival in ox wagons, to a territory without any infrastructure, that modern health care facilities were servicing more than half a million in-patients and more than 700,000 out-patients:
“…Rhodesia can claim to have beds in medical units at a ratio of 4.1 per 1,000 of the population and was able to provide a bed during the year 1964 for over 25 person per 1,000 of population.
This high rate of hospitalization is a reflection of the problem of providing domiciliary medical care for a large section of the population and is not an indication of a high morbidity rate relative to other territories in Africa. On the contrary, the meteoric rise in the [ethnic-Bantu] population, particularly in recent years, is eloquent enough testimony to the improvement in general health. The [ethnic-Bantu] population has actually increased ten fold… The level of bed provision in Rhodesia is second only to that in the Republic of South Africa and is considered considerably better than in any of the “independent” territories of Africa.”p118
Note that South Africa began development almost 240 years before Rhodesia’s.
Rev. Bill Bathman recollected from his 1977 visit to Rhodesia:
Race relations in Rhodesia are among the best I have encountered anywhere… There is one hospital bed for every 350 of the population. By contrast, in Nigeria (one of Rhodesia’s most bitter critics) there is one bed for every 1,867. Medical and educational facilities are [still] mostly subsidized by White taxpayers.
The fee paying ethnic European population also supported a thriving community of private specialist and general medical practitioners. They in turn were “assisting to an increasing degree in providing services for non-paying patients, either in an honourary capacity or on the basis of sessional appointments to the [Health] Ministry’s hospitals”. These included the two main hospitals and the many smaller hospitals and clinics across Rhodesia.
Patients from Central and East Africa would come to Salisbury for and Bulawayo for neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, radiotherapy, dialysis and other first world treatments.
Rhodesia was the world expert on Bilharziasis, a parasitic disease prevalent on the entire continent of Africa. The scourge of many countries, tuberculosis, was being brought under control. Preventative measures were finally getting dreaded Malaria under control.
Facilities and resources to assist the elderly, the blind and disabled, cerebral palsy sufferers and other vulnerable people were provided. Where Church and other Charity groups stepped up, the Rhodesian government assisted with grants for all cases requiring hospital treatment.
Preventative Health Care and Community Development
In addition to the development of infrastructure in rural communities and towns, the Rhodesian government pursued a policy of community development. Including auxiliary health workers not only for the “prevention of disease and maintenance of health, but who are also able to give timely treatment for their minor ailments and refer them to more advanced medical units.”
The education of medical and paramedical personnel was considered important by the government and the 65 medical missions who were also training ethnic-Bantu medical assistants.
Four of the government hospitals were training schools to accredit nurses to the standard certified in Britain. Laboratory technicians and other ancillary staff were also being trained. In 1963 a medical school was established that would meet the standard demanded for accreditation by the University of Birmingham (then one of the best medical schools). More than a third of the students were ethnic-Bantu. Very few ethnic-Europeans could afford a university education in those days.
When people complain about “black” labour being “used” to build infrastructure to develop Rhodesia, they ignore the fact they were trained, paid a salary that usually came with accommodation and were helping build the infrastructure that was servicing and improving their lives. There was nothing stopping the Shona tribe from building a nation in the 300 years they had before ethnic-European arrived. Nor was there anything stopping the Matabele who arrived approximately 70 years before the ethnic European – now compare that to what the ethnic European built in the 70 years following their arrival for the benefit of all.
I think of a friend, recently in hospital with mountains of bills to pay, and I think of the huge crisis unfolding for healthcare workers. Over 2200 healthcare workers left Zimbabwe in 2021, double the number that left in 2020 and three times the number that left in 2019. They currently earn less than US$200 a month and can earn ten times that much abroad and so they go because they have to survive, support their families, build their lives.Cathy Buckle, Letters from Zimbabwe
The Western World in 2020
In 2020 the CoVID pandemic was proclaimed. Overnight millions of people were denied basic medical care. Surgeries were canceled, cancer treatments delayed, even pacemaker checks became ‘non-essential’.
The excuse? The system might become overwhelmed.
The result? Endless TikTok videos of bored hospital staff showing well rehearsed dance routines as millions suffered in their homes due to medical neglect.