Groote Schuur Hospital recently said goodbye to one of its longest-serving employees, Faldela Martin.
After 47 years at the hospital, during which she witnessed some of the most iconic moments in South African medicine, Ms Martin leaves knowing she did her “level best” to serve her community.
What has made her career even more noteworthy is that she did it all in spite of being born with a severe finger deformity.
Speaking to the Tatler on her last day, Friday September 30, she revealed that she began as a general assistant at the hospital on January 29 1969.
“From there, I worked my way up to an admin clerk and later admin supervisor. I believed that despite deformity, you need to utilise your inborn talent, and tell yourself you can do it. If you are presented with challenges, you need need to learn to work around those challenges,” she said.
Ms Martin was well placed to witness many momentous changes at the hospital over the past five decades.
“Every time we have celebrated an anniversary, I realise how much I have been part of this estate. Prior to 1994, as employees we obviously fell under a very different dispensation. There was a massive adjustment after 1994.
“Another significant change was the completion of the new building in 1988. This was largely to make provision for the growing community. What I have always enjoyed about Groote Schuur is that it is such a vibrant hospital. There is lots of talent here, and the management has always allowed that talent to flourish.
“The annual wellness days encourage staff participation, and that encourages closeness among everyone who works here.”
A staunch advocate for workers’ rights, Ms Martin has been an active member of several labour movements, including the Public and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa and served as the provincial chairperson of the Public Servants’ Association of South Africa, Western Cape branch.
“I am very passionate about workers’ rights and workers’ interests. I believe one of my strengths in my activism is that I always conduct myself in a dignified way and respect those I am engaging with. It is important to have manners,” she said.
Another of her great passions has been the voluntary contracts programme at Groote Schuur, where she has worked closely with scores of young people since 2001.
“When working with the so-called born free generation, you must be able to put yourself in their shoes. You must respect them and treat each person individually, understanding their respective capabilities. The youth are affected by peer pressure, and you need to understand what they are going through.”
No conversation about Groote Schuur Hospital seems complete without mentioning the late Christiaan Barnard, whom Ms Martin knew well.
“He was already a big personality in the media, a very well-known person. But I liked him a lot. He was always very friendly to the staff.
“Something else that sticks in my mind is the funeral of Imam (Abdullah) Haron. I will never forget September 27 1969 and his martyrdom. As a young 18-year-old who had just started at Groote Schuur, I remember seeing all the mourners walking past. I could never have been Imam Haron, but I wanted to follow his ideals.”
Imam Haron was a anti-apartheid activist.
Despite her frenetic schedule, Ms Martin, a Grassy Park resident, has remained a devoted and loving wife and mother.
“I honestly don’t think I would have reached any of my goals without my family. I feel I have reared two well-rounded sons. They and my husband, Sadley, a businessman, have always supported me.”
Though retirement has finally happened, Ms Martin is determined that her days and nights will not be wasted.
“I am a trustee of the Bonitas medical scheme, and I am also the managing director of a company specialising in transport. When I die one day and I am asked by God what I have done with my time, I am going to say I used it well.”