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THE RED CROSS IN SOUTH AFRICA
On New Year’s Day, 1896, four doctors approached President Paul Kruger for permission to form an ambulance corps. President Kruger not only gave the doctors his personal blessing, but his Volksraad also made a grant of 500 pounds for equipment, considered a most generous contribution in those days.
Six months later the Government of the South African Republic signed the Geneva Convention, and the ambulance corps took steps to become an independent Red Cross Society, Het Transvaalsche Roode Kruis. During 1899, a National Society was formed in the Orange Free State Republic, and later that year a British Red Cross Society branch was established in the Cape Colony.
From its earliest beginnings in South Africa, the Red Cross made no distinction between frontiers, race or political creed. During the South African War (1899 – 1902) the Society expanded rapidly, receiving aid from the Red Cross in the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada. Their common purpose was to relive the suffering of the wounded, sick combatants, regardless of who they were fighting for and to pass on information regarding persons killed, wounded or captured.
With the return of peace in 1902, the Red Cross Movement in South Africa became dormant until it was revived in 1913, when its objectives included spreading knowledge of first aid, home nursing and hygiene, as well as carrying out relief work for the injured, sick and wounded.
The South African Red Cross Society itself was founded in 1921 with the amalgamation of the various Red Cross entities which existed in the country. It was recognised by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1928 and admitted into the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 1929.
Over the years, the work of the Red Cross in South Africa has changed to reflect the environment in which it is working. The National Society is organized into five regions under the control of elected National Council. Each region has several branch offices and which in turn have several committees with representation from the communities.
As a vitally important partner in this country’s health and welfare network, its principle concerns can be summarised in one sentence: to encourage and promote the improvement of health, the prevention of disease and the mitigation of suffering.
The South African Red Cross Society is one of the 189 members of the Federation and responds to needs in each province, territory and provides relief during minor and major disasters and emergencies throughout South Africa.