Donaldson Trust

St John Home-Care

The relationship between the Order of St John and the Donaldson Trust was established by Ian Haggie, a former chairman of the Trust, who was also the Prior of St John in South Africa. The present Chairman of the Trust, Benjamin Donaldson, who is also a member of the order of St John, took one of the St John senior nursing sisters, Elizabeth Fernandez, to Mohlaletse in order to see if it was possible to start a St John Brigade there.

When they arrived they attended a  large meeting which give them an opportunity of introducing the ideals and philosophy behind St John and how a St John Brigade could help  the community.
Sister Fernandez, who was responsible for the St John community services in all four provinces north of the Vaal river, described how she trained community workers in home-care and then linked them to their local government clinic so that they could visit and provide home-care to patients who’d been discharged, and report back to the clinic if there were any problems. In this way, they acted as the eyes and ears of the clinics, thus relieving a lot of pressure.

The MEC for Health at the time also attended the meeting. A former nursing sister herself, she added  that she’d found it discouraging to nurse patients  back to health only to see them back at the hospital a week later because of lack of after-care. She supported the proposal wholeheartedly and 40 volunteers were selected.
Sister Fernandez chose 40 volunteers who she spread equally across 13 wards in the Fetakgomo Municipality. Each ward had three volunteers. Her reason for splitting the volunteers into wards was that in rural areas, communities are widely scattered and transport is a problem. If, however, volunteer health-care workers only needed to visit patients within their wards, they could do so without incurring any expense because the patients would all be within normal walking distance.

The volunteers were trained in first-aid and home-care by a Sepedi speaking nursing sister, from St John, called Shirley Masego. They all passed and attended a graduation ceremony where they were awarded certificates by the Prior of St John, Bishop Mvume Dandala, who complimented them on their spirit of self-sacrifice.
They formed a brigade and worked with the local clinics. However, they were unpaid, and so Sister Fernandez arranged for them to go on the Department of Health`s 59 day training course which qualified them, as community based home-care workers, to receive small stipend from the government of R 500 per month.
Years later, a St John representative was introduced to a large gathering of home-care workers while visiting a clinic in the Fetakgomo Municipality. They represented all the different health-care groups within the municipality in a scheme initiated by St John and adopted by the municipality. 

Many of the original volunteers who’d qualified as government home-care workers, contacted St John and asked if they could do the St John first-aid course. The British Government agreed to pay for the training, and, when it was completed there were estimated to be about 60 home-care workers in the Fetakgomo Municipality, all being paid, and all trained in first-aid and home-care.
St John also raised money to install eye care equipment in the rooms of a local doctor but this did not prove to be a success and the idea of starting an eye clinic was abandoned. The doctor returned the equipment and said that the major problem had been the difficulty of paying optometrists enough to compensate them for travelling on the bad roads. The money-raising effort was not totally in vain, however, in that it induced the British consul to visit Mohlaletse and, as a consequence, the British Government paid for the building of a workshop for the disabled.

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In May 12, 2008, South Africa was torn apart by wave of violent attacks on foreigners. A series of riots started in the township of Alexandra (in the north-eastern part of Johannesburg) when locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing two people and injuring 40 others.



Operation Hunger



The poverty of the African population living in the rural areas had been regularly publicized by the Institute of Race Relations. This combined with a devastating drought in 1986 produced near famine conditions in Limpopo.

Ina Perlman, who was working for the Institute at the time, visited a number of the worst affected areas and was appalled by what she saw. Confronted with the reality of the statistics and with the actual plight of the families, and especially the women who shouldered the burden of providing, she started Operation Hunger.




The D.O.C.C. is one of the trust’s most important projects. The centre has been the heartbeat of Soweto for decades and home to performers such as Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie. The D.O.C.C was also where the fatal marches were planned for June 16, 1976.

In 1943 the founder of the Donaldson Trust, Colonel James Donaldson wrote to the Johannesburg Municipality proposing the establishment of a youth centre.

The offer was accepted and the council agreed to erect buildings up to the value of £5 000 on a site in Orlando which was partially occupied by the Leake Hall.
Both the suburb of Orlando and the Leake Hall were named after Edwin Orlando Leake, who was mayor of Johannesburg in 1925/6 and a city councillor.



Labour Intensive Training and Engineering

The origins of LITE go back to when the Donaldson Trust began working in Sekhukhuneland (Limpopo) with Operation Hunger. The King of Sekhukhuneland, Kenneth Kgagudi Sekhukhune (KK) explained to the trust that the greatest difficulty facing his people unemployment.

The chairman at the time, Ian Haggie, took the trustees to Sekhukhuneland to confirm trust`s commitment to the area. Haggie noted the devastation caused by lack of maintenance and by overcrowding and suggested the possibility of upgrading the roads and other public works by using labour intensive methods similar to those used in other parts of Africa.



Fort Hare University



Fort Hare University was one the Donaldson Trust’s first and most important works. Until interference from the apartheid government, the university was regarded as the “the greatest centre of black higher education in Southern and Eastern Africa”.


Fort Hare came into existence in 1916 and is the oldest historically black university in Southern Africa. Graduates have come from as far North as Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria, and all knew they were as good as the best. Some alumni, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo Govan Mbeki, Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Dennis Brutus (an acclaimed poet), Can Themba (an accomplished journalist), Yusuf Lule of Uganda, Ntsu Mokehle of Lesotho, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Herbert Chitepo, novelist Stanlake Samkange and the first black Zimbabwean medical doctor, Ticofa Parirenyatwa, have achieved great success and recognition.




Originally, Fort Hare was a 19th century British fort during the border wars between the British and the Xhosa. Nearby was the Lovedale missionary station built in 1824 by the Glasgow Missionary Society and named after Dr John Love. Until 1841 the missionaries devoted themselves almost entirely to evangelistic work but in 1870 a young reverend by the name of James Stewart arrived at the station having recently explored the Zambezi regions with David Livingstone. The first thing the young reverend did was build a school. The school grew into several schools and then came the South African Native College which became the University of Fort Hare.


The academic excellent of the University of Fort Hare stemmed from the initiatives of the black elite and early twentieth-century white liberals, most of them clergy, and supported by many traditional Southern African leaders.


One if its greatest admirers was the trust’s founder, Colonel James Donaldson who was particularly interested in the university because it was where as a young man from Scotland he had found refuge. He was the product of the John Watson Orphanage in Edinburgh and had come to Africa to join the Cape Mounted Rifles.He hoped to make a career of the army but realized that promotion would come very slowly and so he deserted. It was Rev James Stewart who offered him refuge after a daring escape from the military patrol sent to capture him, in which the young Scot disappeared into the forbidding Ncera Valley.


Fifty years later, James Donaldson, then Lt Colonel James Donaldson DSO, and a self-made man returned to the mission where the university had been built. Inspired by the excellent standard of education, the he ensured that the Donaldson Trust provided scholarships and donations for library equipment. He also provided funds to build the women`s hostel and the Donaldson Wing of the Stewart Hall, the foundation stone of which he laid on the 19th September 1946.


Not surprisingly, two of the trust`s first trustees were drawn from Fort Hare; Dr Alexander Kerr (the first principal) and Professor D. D. T. Jabavu. Their relationship with Fort Hare continued until the end of the 1950`s, when it became apparent that the university was going to be incorporated into the apartheid government`s educational structure. Until 1958, the trust was invited to nominate five people for election as donor representatives on the governing council: Dr Xuma was elected.

Sadly, in August 1959 DR Xuma informed his fellow trustees that the university’s last meeting under the existing constitution would take place in the November of that year. He recommended that the trust suspend further support until government clarified its policy. By the end of 1959, the university was consumed by the apartheid system and the relationship between the university and the trust ended.