Remembering SA’s first black professional nurse

Tuesday, January 7 marked an important historical anniversary for the Eastern Cape and South Africa as a whole.

INSPIRATION: A commemorative stamp featuring Cecilia Makiwane, released in 1982

On that day in 1908, Cecilia Makiwane was registered as the first black professional nurse in the country.

Makiwane was born at the MacFarlane Mission in the Victoria district of Alice in 1880.

As the daughter of a teacher and minister, she started receiving an education before she even started school. She eventually graduated from Lovedale Girl’s School with a teacher’s certificate before enrolling for nurse training at Lovedale College in 1903.

After completing the three-year course, she was sent to Butterworth Hospital for further training in preparation of the Colonial Medical Council examination.

She wrote her final examination on December 19, 1907 and was registered as South Africa’s first black professional nurse the next year.

After taking part in what is considered to be the first women’s led anti-pass campaign in 1912, Makiwane returned to her work at Lovedale Hospital where she served for many years.

She eventually was granted leave for ill health and, in 1919, she passed away at the age of 39 in Thaba ‘Nchu in the Free State.

Makiwane continues to be remembered with a statue of her being erected outside Lovedale Hospital in 1977 and the opening of the Cecilia Makiwane Hospital Complex in Mdantsane, which underwent extensive refurbishment and was officially re-opened in 2017.

The government also introduced the Cecilia Makiwane Nurse’s Recognition Award for healthcare professionals in 2002.

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