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Saturday, 4 June 2011

My wife and I go for a cheap anniversary meal and send £50 to a charity in Jozi where not a penny goes on offices, salaries or expenses.


I have had a lot of people ask me why, on our anniversary and our New Year's meal, we go “cheap” and give £50 each time to a charity instead.

Well, we have found a charity in Jozi (local slang for Johannesburg) where the twenty ladies who organise it all work from home so there are no office rents. There are no office expenses either as, apart from all working for nothing as pure volunteers, they pay their own phone bills, travel bills and office expenses. I like that. It is good to know that my £50 all goes to the “sharp End”.

In addition to this, the Chair Lady who is English met my wife and me on a previous trip to London and we both took to her and could see she was a really nice honest person – even if she is married to a top South African banker!

The following has been lifted, unashamedly, from their website and is their history.


The Baragwanath Gifts and Comforts Committee started in 1954. The then Mayoress of Johannesburg, together with doctors' wives, started out by providing comforts to babies at Baragwanath Hospital (now the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital). In those days, the hospital was a prestigious, state-of-the-art facility where patients were provided with fresh linen, pyjamas, dressing gowns, food and medical care. Babies however, sometimes required clothes and a blanket on leaving the hospital and this is where the 'comforts' came in, in the form of matinee jackets and receiving blankets, knitted and provided by the members of the newly-formed charity.

Over time, the Committee expanded its area of operation, providing comforts to adult patients as well as babies and children. Interestingly, in the 1950s and 1960s no 'comforts package' was complete without a box of cigarettes and some matches! Other comforts included basic toiletries, sweets and writing paper. The base of hospitals also expanded until the charity was supporting Sizwe Hospital (formerly the Rietfontein Hospital), Coronation Hospital, St. John's Hospital and the NEH (Non-Europeans Hospital in Hillbrow).

Funds were raised through book sales, cake sales and bridge drives. Twice a year book sales were held, one on the steps of the City Hall and one in Rosebank; cake sales took place three or four times a year and the annual bridge drive was a highlight of the calendar. Fundraising income in those days was around R120 from a book sale and the lucky draw prize for the bridge drive was a case of whiskey costing R39. A R7000 donation from a deceased estate (a huge windfall in those days) was what really put the Committee on its feet and enabled the all-woman organisation to carry on providing comforts to hospital patients.

Moreen McMurray, a Committee member in 1954 recalls: “Things were very different then. Once a year we had our AGM at Baragwanath and it was a big event with a picnic at the hospital for staff and Committee members. Christmas was another big event, every patient in Baragwanath Hospital on Christmas Day received a wrapped gift and we packaged over 4000 parcels of sweets and treats for patients at the other hospitals. A big Christmas party was attended by all the patients at 'Bara', some of them having to be wheeled in on gurneys and stretchers. The children especially loved the party.”

The Government of the time did not always welcome the Committee input; and a permit had to be issued to visit the hospitals. When Sizwe was added as a beneficiary hospital, special permission had to be sought as the charity's permit extended only to Witwatersrand hospitals, and Sizwe was outside of this area.

In the early seventies, the members of the Committee dwindled down to three ladies. The political climate was rather threatening to the voluntary committee workers. African people balked at accepting help or gifts from 'White folk', and there were no Christmas parties. There was talk of closing shop. During this time things were not so easy with events such as the Soweto riots, and the Committee was not allowed to visit the hospitals. However, they carried on with the work, with the representatives from the hospital coming to the Committee. Many National Government officials were obstructive to the committee members carrying out their work. When the Charity was threatened word of mouth quickly spread and new ladies offered to join to assist with their time and skills, and the BHCC grew and grew.

By 1992 the growth in the number of hospitals and clinics, and the increase and change in the needs of patients was such that the Committee sought to recruit even more members. Mary Milne, the chairlady at the time, met Nicky Franklin at sewing classes, and she joined the charity and later became chairlady. Nicky involved her friends, and thos
The Baragwanath Gifts and Comforts Committee started in 1954. The then Mayoress of Johannesburg, together with doctors' wives, started out by providing comforts to babies at Baragwanath Hospital (now the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital). In those days, the hospital was a prestigious, state-of-the-art facility where patients were provided with fresh linen, pyjamas, dressing gowns, food and medical care. Babies however, sometimes required clothes and a blanket on leaving the hospital and this is where the 'comforts' came in, in the form of matinee jackets and receiving blankets, knitted and provided by the members of the newly-formed charity.

Over time, the Committee expanded its area of operation, providing comforts to adult patients as well as babies and children. Interestingly, in the 1950s and 1960s no 'comforts package' was complete without a box of cigarettes and some matches! Other comforts included basic toiletries, sweets and writing paper. The base of hospitals also expanded until the charity was supporting Sizwe Hospital (formerly the Rietfontein Hospital), Coronation Hospital, St. John's Hospital and the NEH (Non-Europeans Hospital in Hillbrow).

Funds were raised through book sales, cake sales and bridge drives. Twice a year book sales were held, one on the steps of the City Hall and one in Rosebank; cake sales took place three or four times a year and the annual bridge drive was a highlight of the calendar. Fundraising income in those days was around R120 from a book sale and the lucky draw prize for the bridge drive was a case of whiskey costing R39. A R7000 donation from a deceased estate (a huge windfall in those days) was what really put the Committee on its feet and enabled the all-woman organisation to carry on providing comforts to hospital patients.

Moreen McMurray, a Committee member in 1954 recalls: “Things were very different then. Once a year we had our AGM at Baragwanath and it was a big event with a picnic at the hospital for staff and Committee members. Christmas was another big event, every patient in Baragwanath Hospital on Christmas Day received a wrapped gift and we packaged over 4000 parcels of sweets and treats for patients at the other hospitals. A big Christmas party was attended by all the patients at 'Bara', some of them having to be wheeled in on gurneys and stretchers. The children especially loved the party.”

The Government of the time did not always welcome the Committee input; and a permit had to be issued to visit the hospitals. When Sizwe was added as a beneficiary hospital, special permission had to be sought as the charity's permit extended only to Witwatersrand hospitals, and Sizwe was outside of this area.

In the early seventies, the members of the Committee dwindled down to three ladies. The political climate was rather threatening to the voluntary committee workers. African people balked at accepting help or gifts from 'White folk', and there were no Christmas parties. There was talk of closing shop. During this time things were not so easy with events such as the Soweto riots, and the Committee was not allowed to visit the hospitals. However, they carried on with the work, with the representatives from the hospital coming to the Committee. Many National Government officials were obstructive to the committee members carrying out their work. When the Charity was threatened word of mouth quickly spread and new ladies offered to join to assist with their time and skills, and the BHCC grew and grew.

By 1992 the growth in the number of hospitals and clinics, and the increase and change in the needs of patients was such that the Committee sought to recruit even more members. Mary Milne, the chairlady at the time, met Nicky Franklin at sewing classes, and she joined the charity and later became chairlady. Nicky involved her friends, and those friends introduced yet more people and the BHCC has evolved to become more professional, streamlined and very well organised.

The requirements for patients nowadays are entirely different. What State facilities now provide to patients is also extremely limited compared to in days gone by. Additionally, the number of patients without family or support systems has increased at an alarming rate. Poverty, destitution and joblessness (often due to chronic illnesses) are now more rife and more unmanageable than ever, and the number of patients being fed at soup kitchens is rising dramatically.

Despite its many metamorphoses and the new initiatives being introduced, it is heart-warming to be able to say that the spirit of the many wonderful women who started the charity, and have since lent their support over the years remains the same, that the dignity and well-being of patients is our driving force, and that the commitment, dedication and energy of the current Committee will ensure that their legacy is one that continues to change lives.
e friends introduced yet more people and the BHCC has evolved to become more professional, streamlined and very well organised.

The requirements for patients nowadays are entirely different. What State facilities now provide to patients is also extremely limited compared to in days gone by. Additionally, the number of patients without family or support systems has increased at an alarming rate. Poverty, destitution and joblessness (often due to chronic illnesses) are now more rife and more unmanageable than ever, and the number of patients being fed at soup kitchens is rising dramatically.

Despite its many metamorphoses and the new initiatives being introduced, it is heart-warming to be able to say that the spirit of the many wonderful women who started the charity, and have since lent their support over the years remains the same, that the dignity and well-being of patients is our driving force, and that the commitment, dedication and energy of the current Committee will ensure that their legacy is one that continues to change lives.


The following, also from their website, gives an indication of where the money goes:


Hundreds of patients arrive daily at trauma facilities in Johannesburg hospitals. Thousands more are admitted for medical conditions and procedures. The State proviHundreds of patients arrive daily at trauma facilities in Johannesburg hospitals. Thousands more are admitted for medical conditions and procedures. The State provides very cheap, or free, medical care. What it can't provide is more than the basic bed and treatment.
Victims of abuse, assault and accidents typically have their clothes cut from them during treatment, and these are often damaged and bloodied anyway. When it comes time to discharge those patients, the hospital cannot provide replacement clothing and shoes. This is where we come in. Most of our supplies of clothing and shoes to patients originate from donations of second-hand goods, some are hand-made.
Toiletries, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, wash cloths and deodorants, are basic needs for anyone staying more than a day in hospital and we deliver these regularly.
Well over 100 babies are delivered daily at our local hospitals in Johannesburg, and many of these arrive without warning. Mothers are given between 4 and 12 hours to leave the hospital after a normal delivery, so they often need baby goods.
Other needs, such as Occupational Therapy Aids, recovery aids, educational games and activities are also requested routinely
Victims of abuse, assault and accidents typically have their clothes cut from them during treatment, and these are often damaged and bloodied anyway. When it comes time to discharge those patients, the hospital cannot provide replacement clothing and shoes. This is where we come in. Most of our supplies of clothing and shoes to patients originate from donations of second-hand goods, some are hand-made.
Toiletries, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, wash cloths and deodorants, are basic needs for anyone staying more than a day in hospital and we deliver these regularly.
Well over 100 babies are delivered daily at our local hospitals in Johannesburg, and many of these arrive without warning. Mothers are given between 4 and 12 hours to leave the hospital after a normal delivery, so they often need baby goods.
Other needs, such as Occupational Therapy Aids, recovery aids, educational games and activities are also requested routinely.


Just reading this brings tears to my eyes, but then I am from South Africa and we feel very strongly about the plight of innocent Africans. Note I do add the word “innocent”.

You can visit the Baragwanath Gifts and Comforts Committee website and see what else they offer and carry out on a regular basis. But beware, the website has little black question marks all over it where apostrophes etc have been used, and they won't divert money from the “sharp end” to fix it.

Finally, if you want to donate to them, but want to avoid the £20 most banks charge to transfer small amounts of money, email me at ampers on gmail and I will show you a way of bypassing this charge.

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