Step back in time to the late 1920s, when a flicker of hope ignited within the hearts of a compassionate few. It was during this era that the seeds of the present-day Association for the Physically Disabled – Greater Johannesburg (APD) were sown. The story began with the Hope Convalescent Home Committee, whose dedication led to the birth of a new training home for older children in need of specialized care.
In 1930, the committee extended its reach even further by welcoming children with disabilities and chronic heart diseases for continued treatment. The Irene Kanthac Ward was established to provide a safe haven for these individuals upon their discharge from the hospital. The awareness of the struggles faced by people with disabilities grew steadily, thanks to the efforts of the Johannesburg branch of the National Council for Women of South Africa.
This growing awareness culminated in a pivotal public meeting in 1934, where Mrs. D Penry Roberts, the wife of Johannesburg's Mayor, convened individuals who recognized the importance of establishing a training home for children with physical disabilities. With unwavering determination, a committee called the Crippled Children’s Training Home Fund was formed, entrusted with the task of raising the necessary funds for this noble endeavor. In just six months, the majority of the funds needed for the Hope Training Home were secured.
On December 10, 1934, the Cripples’ Care Association of the Transvaal was born, driven by the pressing need to address the challenges faced by people with physical disabilities. The association's journey saw an unforgettable highlight when, a few days later, the Countess of Clarendon laid the foundation stone of the training home. Her heartfelt speech praised the visionary minds behind the idea and hailed the growth of public conscience that made such a venture possible.
Two years of hard work and dedication culminated in the completion of the Hope Training Home in September 1936. During the opening ceremony, the Earl of Clarendon paid tribute to all those involved, acknowledging the many donors and the couple, Colonel and Mrs. Fennell, who generously donated the site.
The committee's role did not end with the establishment of the home; they continued to selflessly volunteer their time to ensure the smooth running of both the Home and the Association itself. The committee consisted of esteemed individuals from Johannesburg, including mayoral couples, influential mining figures, high-ranking military officials, and compassionate citizens. The Association's reputation and respect grew steadily, with Lady Duncan aptly describing it as a testament to South Africa's richness.
Presiding over an early Annual General Meeting, Mr. Justice Feetham, the Association's first President, emphasized the objective of promoting education, training, employment, and the general welfare of individuals with disabilities. Over the years, the wording has evolved, but the essence of the mission has remained the same: to be fully committed to working alongside individuals with physical disabilities and their families, promoting their integration into society and enabling them to reach their full potential.
By 1939, APD branches were sprouting across the country. The need to coordinate these efforts led to the establishment of a national body, the National Council for the Care of Cripples in South Africa, during a conference in Bloemfontein. The Transvaal branch, in particular, touched the lives of countless South Africans. A 1949 article in The Rand Daily Mail beautifully captured the essence of the Association's work, highlighting both the challenges faced and the heartwarming success stories.
The Association's journey is filled with countless tales of courage and determination. One such tale revolves around David, a non-European individual with a single leg, who aspired to earn a living as a hairdresser. In a letter to the Association, a clergyman advocating for David wrote, "If you could provide David with a pair of electric hair clippers, he believes his business would improve considerably." With the electric clippers generously provided by the Association, David's thriving business became a testament to the power of support and opportunity.
Throughout its history, the APD has been blessed with individuals who embody The Greatly Caring spirit, dedicating themselves to the mission of improving the quality of life for all people with physical disabilities. One of the most influential figures was Mr. JC Merkin, Chairman of the Cripples’ Care Association of the Transvaal from 1942 to 1970. Merkin played a pivotal role in establishing an extensive network of orthopedic treatment facilities and disability care services across South Africa. His devotion extended beyond national borders, as he represented South Africa at international congresses and served on committees of the International Society for the Welfare of the Disabled.
There are countless unsung heroes who have contributed to the Association's success over the past seventy-five years. One such hero is Primrose du Plessis, a remarkable lady whose devotion spanned over six decades. She actively served on the Executive Committee and played a crucial role in securing a building donation for the Association. Recalling the early years, Primrose reminisced about the spirit of cooperation and the willingness of volunteers to rally behind a worthy cause.
Times have changed since then, and fundraising has become more challenging in our modern society. The Association's annual Golf Day, which began 28 years ago with the active involvement of Mrs. Gary Player, and the Christmas Card Campaign, now face the shrinking income. However, the APD has always adapted to the changing milieu, surviving and thriving amidst significant challenges.
The post-Apartheid era ushered in a new wave of challenges and opportunities for the Association. The convergence of charitable giving toward other pressing issues, the decline in volunteerism, and the shortage of social work staff were significant hurdles to overcome. Yet, this period also brought forth opportunities, such as a disabled-friendly legislative framework and the ability to explore business initiatives to reduce dependence on government subsidies.
This era witnessed a historic moment as the Association elected its first Chairperson and President of color in 2005 and 2006, respectively. In 2010, a person of color was appointed as the Director of the organization for the first time. Over the years, the APD has evolved, changing its name, structure, methods, and services. Yet, its relevance to the individuals it serves remains as profound as it was 80 years ago.
As we celebrate seventy-nine years of devoted service, the APD proudly reflects on a history woven with drama, passion, unconditional love, and compassion. It stands as an infinite source of inspiration for future generations. The Association recognizes the immense responsibilities it carries and remains committed to the unwavering pursuit of being The Greatly Caring.
In 2023, we salute all the remarkable men and women who have paved the way, fully aware that the torch has been passed to our shoulders. With dedication and compassion, we strive to build upon this rich legacy, ensuring that the APD continues to shine as a beacon of hope and empowerment for all.