From herdboy to hospital owner …Dr Solwayo Ngwenya’s undying dream

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Sep 2, 2018 | 1590 views
Dr Solwayo Ngwenya

Dr Solwayo Ngwenya

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday News Correspondent
Dr Solwayo Ngwenya does not know how much it cost him to build the Royal Women’s Clinic.

Ever since the first brick was laid in August 2011 at what Dr Ngwenya said is a hospital and not a clinic despite what its name suggests, he has not sat down to crunch the numbers and find out how much of his own money went into building the institution which is situated at Bulawayo’s Hillside suburb.

One cannot put a price on a dream, he says.

“I haven’t actually set down to calculate how much building this institution cost me. This is because of the way it was built. It’s a place that was built from my own savings. So when I was building the place I would take money from my Government salary and go and buy bricks. I was building it slowly over time,” Dr Solwayo told Sunday News.

Dr Ngwenya’s story is one that began long before he even picked up a scalpel or stethoscope. In fact, it is one that began before even his own birth. Before he was born, Dr Ngwenya was already at a disadvantage when his father’s family was forcefully removed from Insuza to a new village in Lupane District where a white farmer decimated his father’s herd of cattle, buying them for one pound each.

At such a strenuous time, his mother was pregnant with him. His mother’s struggles may perhaps explain why the seasoned gynaecologist and obstetrician has gone on to establish an institution that caters specifically for women.

“Women are very important in society. They bear the brunt of the burden of caring for future generations because they are the ones that carry pregnancies and do the breastfeeding when the children are eventually born. With this in mind, women should be at the heart of whatever health spending is there, whether by Government or private institutions. Services should be targeted towards women because they carry the burden of disease,” Dr Solwayo said.

Royal Women’s Clinic is certainly a haven for the fairer sex. Consisting of three theatres, a high dependency unit, a labour ward, and a neonatal intensive care unit, the 30 bedded healthcare centre was costly for the Clinical Director of Mpilo Hospital who had to dig deep into his pocket to make his dream a reality. Since it opened its doors on 12 September in 2012, patient’s fondness for the hospital has kept it afloat.

“When you look at it now, you realise that it cost a lot of money. This is because it was hard work done over several years.

This was not an overnight thing. Once I started the first wing the place started getting self sufficient. This was because the fees from patients were now financing the place,” he said.

As expensive as building the hospital was, Dr Solwayo said this was not the biggest obstacle that stood between him and the realisation of his dream.

“The major obstacle that I faced was that my neighbours didn’t want this clinic to be built. So they went to council to try and block its approval. We even went as far as the High Court trying to get a favourable decision to allow me to develop this place.

So that was the biggest obstacle because I felt that the other things were easy. The neighbours really didn’t like this place but I’m sure now they appreciate its value,” he said.

Built around what was formerly a house, the hospital was not born in a conventional way.

“I started building in 2011. I thought let me buy the house and build around it. The main bedroom is now the five bedded ward and everything was built using locally available material.  My aim was to complement services provided by the Government, which is where I work.

“Many patients were going to Harare and South Africa and so they wanted something nearer to home. It’s costly to take a family or relatives and fly them to Harare or travel to Harare. So I thought let me just tap into this market,” he said.

Located in Hillside, some might view the hospital as beyond the reach of those living in the city’s western suburbs. However, Dr Solwayo, a herdboy who went to the United Kingdom via Magwegwe, said he built the institution with the less fortunate in mind.

“People come from as far as the western suburbs so they have heard about the place. It’s growing. That’s the reason why I built it in such a way that it caters for people from all classes. Someone who is from Magwegwe, where I grew up, can come and have a delivery at Sunflower, which is a five-bedded ward or Mahlokohloko, which is six bedded. Those that are affluent can go to the other wards. When I was building this place I was thinking about the people from the locations and the rural areas,” he said.

The herdboy from Lupane is still alive within Solwayo, who describes hospital as the first indigenously owned institution of its kind. The names of the wards tell the story of a man who is still very much in touch with his roots.

“It was a deliberate decision to give the wards those names. Most of the indigenous names are names of my ancestors. The ward names are taken from my father to my mother and my great grandfather and so forth. That’s to show the richness of my history and my family because this is entirely owned by one person,” he said.

Among those family luminaries, one name sticks out like an unfamiliar face in a room full of people that have known each other for ages. The Ezra Tshisa Sibanda Theatre is one of the most important parts of the institution and Dr Solwayo explained why he had dedicated it to the radio personality.

“I decided to name the theatre after Ezra Tshisa Sibanda because I’ve got a very long standing relationship with him. I have known him since 1988 when we were students and when he went to work to work at ZBC and I also went my own route we stayed in touch.

“When he went to the UK we were still close and it was the same when he came back. He has also done some publicity work for the clinic so I have a long standing relationship with Ezra. Beyond even my personal relationship with him I think Ezra Tshisa is an iconic figure in Bulawayo so I felt that naming a theatre after him was a just honour,” he said.

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