Maternity clinic birthed amid apartheid violence - meet the midwife carrying on her mother's legacy

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  • Dolly Dube was a well-known midwife in the townships of Kathelhong, Thokoza and Vosloorus.
  • During the unrest of the early 1990s, women started coming to her home to give birth.
  • After her death, her daughter changed her career path to continue her mother's legacy.

August 1990 was a time when South African townships were burning.

Political wars between the ANC, the IFP and the government of the day translated into violence in townships like Katlehong, Thokoza and Vosloorus. The three adjacent townships east of Johannesburg were at the centre of tribal violence between the two political parties.

Residents were terrified of leaving their homes and many couldn't get to a hospital for medical attention.

One day, Dolly Dube heard a knock on her door. It was a woman in labour.

"People couldn't go to the hospital because of the violence. There were no-go areas and the only hospital close by was Natalspruit Hospital. My mother was known to be the best midwife in Katlehong and Vosloorus. She had been a midwife for many years," says Nonina Dube-Diphoko, Dube's daughter.

'A place of love'

"People would direct those who were in labour to her. So people would just come knocking, ready to have their babies, asking for her assistance, because they could not go to Natalspruit." 

And so, for two years, people came to Dube's house to give birth. But Dube didn't just deliver babies, she birthed her own maternal clinic.

"The community wrote a petition to the local municipality requesting that she continue her maternal services," Dube-Diphoko explains.

She named it Eluthandweni Maternity Clinic, which means "place of love". 

Today, it's a fenced, face brick building that is well equipped. 

Death and legacy

In 2006, Dube died. At the time, her daughter was a teacher.

This was a turning point in Dube-Diphoko's life.

"Because of the vision my mother had, I didn't want to let go of it or let it lapse. I would not have done justice for what she wanted for the community."

She resigned from her education job and enrolled to study nursing full-time at the Ann Latsky Nursing College in Johannesburg.

While she was studying, the midwives who worked with her mother continued to run the clinic.

But the mother of three knew that for her clinic to be successful, she needed to complete her nursing studies.

"In 2017 and 2018, I went back to school again. I did my advanced midwifery. Because there was a protocol or principle by the Department of Health that stated that you need to have advanced midwifery to run a maternity health clinic without a doctor's insight so that you would be able to handle some of the complications on your own without the help of a doctor, or manage before you can refer to a hospital," explains Dube-Diphoko.

Expanded services

Eluthandweni started as a birthing clinic. Now it offers a variety of services such as prenatal care, family planning and child immunisation.

She has also partnered with the government for chronic patients to be able to fetch their medicine at the facility.

"We are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and we don't have any holidays. We want people to fetch their medication at a time convenient to them, so that they are not absent from their work," Dube-Diphoko says.

Dube-Diphoko has received funding from the Japanese Embassy which she used to purchase an ambulance for the clinic to collect patients who needed their services.

Impact of the pandemic 

Like many other facilities, the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Eluthandweni.

"Some of our clients lost their jobs and were unable to pay for our services anymore," Dube-Diphoko says.

She adds that the recent unrest in Gauteng meant that some people were afraid to travel to the clinic.

"We are in Vosloorus. We can still feel the impact of the riots because once people Google our clinic and see that it's in Vosloorus, they will say that Vosloorus is not safe.

"Whenever there are riots, Vosloorus is the first to be mentioned. People no longer feel safe registering with us," she explains.

Giving back to the community

Every October, Dube-Diphoko and her team run cancer awareness programmes. She has had sponsors to help her run this programme since 2015.

She also makes room in her busy schedule for a few hours a day to go to Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital to volunteer for the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

"I am offering my services. I am vaccinating people. I am giving back to the community because I am doing this for free. So whatever time I get, I come and help the professional nurses that are vaccinating at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital," she says.

"I am what I am because of my community," she adds.

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