For almost 80 years, Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town has provided world class healthcare to everyone, and has achieved distinction as the academic hospital for service, education and research in partnership with the University of Cape Town Medical School and Faculty of Health Sciences.

On 3 December 1967, Chris Barnard and his team performed the first ever heart transplant in the world. This is just one of many world “firsts” conducted at Groote Schuur during its remarkable lifespan.

The hospital offers specialist services in every area of human disease, including trauma, neurology, oncology and heart surgery, and is the only facility offering transplantation in South Africa’s public sector.

With a staff of over 500 doctors, 1300 nurses and 1600 allied workers, it treats 50,000 inpatients and 350,000 outpatients every year.

Groote Schuur Hospital, or `Grotties’ as it is affectionately known, is not just a building, but a place of healing; a place of teaching and learning; a place of visionary thinking and innovation; a place of high ethical and moral standards; a place of selfless dedication and service; a place of excellence; a place that the Groote Schuur Family calls ‘home’.

Historical Perspective

Subsequently in 1926 the University agreed to lease eleven hectares of the estate, adjacent to the newly built Medical School, to the Cape Hospital Board for 99 years at a peppercorn rental of £1 per annum. The land was to be used for a new teaching hospital for the Medical Faculty of the University of Cape Town, In April 1929 the Administrator of the Cape Province agreed to the Board’s proposal

for the erection of an 850 bed hospital on this site, to be called Groote Schuur Hospital, at a cost of £750 000. Construction commenced in 1927 with the levelling of the site, using convict labour, which caused a public outcry, and the digging of foundations in 1931.

In 1932 the two foundation stones were laid by the Governor General of the Union of South Africa, the Earl of Clarendon, and the Administrator of the Cape, Mr J.H. Conradie. Eventually, on Monday 31 January 1938 the new hospital was officially opened by Sir Patrick Duncan, a later Governor General of the Union of South Africa.

At that time there was only sufficient nursing staff for 450 of the 850 beds although 628 were equipped for use. It was not until the 40’s,  after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, that the hospital became fully functional.

The building, although bearing characteristic features of Lutyens’ and Baker’s architecture, was not designed by these two masters.

It enhances the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak in a well proportioned and harmonious composition of cream walls, red-tiled roofs, cupolas and statuary — the original teak shutters regrettably removed long since by a pragmatic but misguided clerk of works.

The hospital was designed by the Department of Public Works’ architect, Mr F.D. Strong, in Pretoria under the aegis of the Secretary for Public Works, Mr T.S. Cleland.

The solidly constructed buildings bear a wealth of decorative detail — indicative of a less materialistic and more gracious era of superb craftsmanship and concern for human scale.

Vladimir Meyerowitz’s magnificently carved fanlights arch over the five solid teak entrance doors, embellished with escutcheon plates bearing Mercury’s caduceus, (mistaken for Aesculapius’staff) or lamp-bearing Florence Nightingale in silhouette.

The owl of wisdom ponders sagely over Aesculapius himself (or it is Hippocrates?) above the central portal, flanked by Corinthian columns with unusual indigenous flora, Grecian urns, swags, wreaths, cherubs and crested by serene Hygeia, welcoming the sick and suffering with her ever-flaming torch.

Two Zimbabwe birds, replicas of those found at the Zimbabwe ruins and sculpted, like Hygeia, by Ernest Quilter brood atop the original water towers. In the pediments above the North and South wings angels of mercy designed by Ethyl Wynne-Quail spread their healing wings over hospital staff and patients.

The particular needs of sick children were also considered in the paediatric wards where aseries of decorative tile panels produced by W. van Hall, Audrey Frank and Thelma Gifford Gayton of the Ceramic Studio at Olifantsfontein in the Transvaal, depict familiar nursery rhymes or African and Malay legends.

The humanity embodied in the buildings was echoed by the magnificent response of the citizens of Cape Town to the Board’s appeal for funds to equip the new hospital.

This campaign, launched in 1935 in the wake of the Depression, asked every individual to donate one day’s pay to the hospital and realised the remarkable sum of £75 000.

Groote Schuur Hospital’s strength is based not on its one metre thick foundations but on its enduring links with the origins and the people of this mother city — built up over more than five decades of symbiotic and synergistic interdependence.

The concern for people exhibited by the designers and decorators of the original building and by the donors who contributed to the equipment is inherent in the hospital’s ethos. It is, indeed, the very source of the hospital’s strength and its commitment to service.

`Grotties’ is not merely rambling blocks of masonry, nor millions of rands worth of technology, nor the 7000 individuals who staff the institution, nor the hundreds of thousands of patients who pass through the doors annually, nor the thousands of students who have trained here.

Groote Schuur Hospital is truly the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. It has a soul forged from the bedrock created by the synthesis of vision, idealism, philanthropy, selfless dedication and sheer hard work; by the amalgam of will to provide benefits to the community on the part of all the organisations, institutions and individuals who played a role in the conception, realisation and development of this great hospital.

This soul has been tempered by high ethical standards and by certain dominant principles — of health care as a right rather than a marketable commodity, of health care a public sector responsibility, of equal access to health care without discrimination of any grounds, of health care service provided without a profit motive, of the determination to constantly improve in all spheres — for the purpose of doing better.

These concepts were restated in the Re-dedication pledge which was read en masse at the Re-dedication Ceremony on 31 January 1988.

WE, the staff, friends and associates of Groote Schuur Hospital and the Medical Faculty of the University of Cape Town rededicate ourselves, our knowledge and skills to achieving the mission of this great hospital which seeks to function as a centre of excellence within a unitary and egalitarian health service committed to providing comprehensive health care of the highest quality; to offer teaching, research and specialist diagnostic and therapeutic services that will continue the proud tradition of past endeavours into the future.

We solemnly rededicate ourselves to the service of humanity, to alleviate suffering and to promote health in a manner which respects the dignity, the individuality and the privacy of those whom we serve.

As members of the health care team we solemnly declare that we will preserve and respect the honorable traditions and obligations of our several callings for the good of all people in our care, and for the common good, regardless of any other considerations.

We will uphold the traditions and values of Groote Schuur Hospital and promote its welfare, maintain its reputation and constantly strive to improve on past achievements in all fields.

These undertakings can best be served by observing our motto:

SERVAMUS — WE SERVE. Groote Schuur Hospital’s strength lies not only in the solid ground of its historic associations and past achievements, but also on its commitment to the future.

A future which is already unfolding in the new buildings, adjacent to the old, and in the crucible of change which faces South Africa.

The staff, friends and associates of this hospital have declared their dedication and determination to uphold the traditions, standards and principles on which Groote Schuur Hospital is founded.

New GSH:
Planning and Commissioning Redevelopment

IN 1938 AT the opening ceremony Sir Patrick Duncan said prophetically that the bed capacity of Groote Schuur Hospital would have to be increased from 850 to 1400. Now 50 years later the new extension has confirmed his prophecy.

In the years that followed, the rapidly increasing population of greater Cape Town, technological developments, demands of health care, manpower and the improved capabilities of medical care created unremitting pressure for more space and more facilities at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The shortcomings of the original buildings were aggravated by escalating patient numbers and by increasing expansion of clinical facilities at the expense of the support services. The medical school of the University of Cape Town also experienced the need for expansion during the same period.

The original buildings, the Werner and Beit laboratories and the physiology block were built in the twenties. In 1954, the Falmouth building was added on the east side of the medical school site and at about the same time the library was built.

In the late 1960’s, after the first heart transplant, the block that houses the unit for heart diseases, organ transplants and the animal house was built. In 1971 the new anatomy block was completed.

In 1982 the Barnard Fuller building was built, which accommodates the Dean’s office, cafeterias and the Post-Graduate Medical Education Centre. Developments at the overcrowded Medical School then ceased in anticipation of its eventual move into the old Groote Schuur building.