Between 1982 and 1985 a group of therapists who were treating hand patients in Pretoria used to get together once a month to discuss cases or listen to a speaker. Most of these meetings were also attended by hand surgeons and a cohesive group was formed. During March 1987 the first Refresher Course for Hand Surgery was held at MEDUNSA.
For the first time, occupational and physiotherapists working in the field of hands were invited to present talks on the rehabilitation of the hand, together with the surgeons who all spoke about hand surgery. The course was a great success and was attended by therapists from all over the country.
Soon after that, Prof Mennen attended the IFSSH congress in Japan (1986) and met with hand therapists there. Evelyn Mackin, the President of the ASHT, was already talking about starting an International Federation of Hand Therapists and gave him her address and contact details.
Corrianne van Velze discussed the possibility of forming an official society of hand therapists with the informal Pretoria Hand Group ('Pretoria handgroep') as well as therapists in the Western Cape. This suggestion met with a favourable response from occupational- and physiotherapists and the wheels were set into motion to elect a steering committee, draw up a constitution and arrange an inaugural meeting.
This meeting was duly held in the auditorium of the 1 Military Hospital in November 1988. There was lots of enthusiasm for the society and the meeting was well attended by therapists from Pretoria as well as Johannesburg. Dr Wienand, Theo le Roux, Prof Gräbe and orthopaedic surgeons in private practice were also there to join in the fun. The guest speaker that evening was Prof Mennen.
The first exco was elected and consisted of the following persons:
During the first enthusiastic years, the society met regularly and presented at least two workshops or courses every year. We often met in the auditorium of 1 Mil hospital and sometimes in their spacious OT department, especially when we presented a hands-on splinting - or woodwork course. In the beginning years, most of our members were from Pretoria, but we also had members from Johannesburg. The Cape Town therapists formed a special interest group and met regularly at a venue between the Northern and Southern suburbs. A Newsletter was started and sent out every two months.
The conference room at the Medical Research Council in Pretoria was a favourite venue and later on we moved to the venue at Carstenhoff clinic, which was easier for the therapists from Johannesburg.
All of the therapists who attended our meetings and courses worked for government hospitals. A private practice specialising in hand conditions was unheard of!! Our biggest problem was that therapists did not remain members for very long as many government hospitals followed a policy of rotation and as soon as therapists moved on to doing neuro or paeds, we lost them.
We still met once every two months on a week day evening for many years. This was often questioned by different husbands and one was heard to ask: "Can you talk so much about the hand? You have already attended three meetings this year!"
In 1989 Corrianne attended the first congress of the International Federation for Hand Therapy in Tel Aviv, Israel. She attended the first council meeting of the Federation and was duly elected as Historian of the Federation. She remained actively involved in executive committee of the IFSHT for many years and nurtured an interest in the IFSHT among South African hand therapists. This was seen in the fact that more than 15 South African hand therapists attended the last IFSHT meeting, which took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in June 2004. South African hand therapists have a good name among the International hand therapy fraternity and many international therapists are eager to visit us.
The SASHT has developed and grown through the years and was able to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 1998. Many different therapists have given their time and dedication to the society throughout the years. We have always endeavoured to have a good relationship with the hand surgeons and attend their annual courses and congresses whenever possible. In 2003 the SASHT launched its very first edition of the SA Journal of Hand Therapy. Unfortunately, this venture had to be discontinued due to financial restraints. Every two years, since 1998, we have invited excellent speakers from abroad to tour the country, presenting workshops and courses and sharing their knowledge and expertise with us.
As in all societies, the SASHT has had its ups and downs, but when reflecting on the past, it is clear that there were many more ups than downs. The SASHT has been an excellent vehicle for building friendships and improving our knowledge and skills.
Therapists from Durban have been involved in hand rehabilitation for many years. We started by being members of the Natal hand club made up predominantly of plastic and orthopaedic surgeons with among others the late Prof K.S. Naidoo and John Younglesson both of whom were pioneers of hand surgery in this country. The meetings were quarterly 3 in Durban and one in Pietermaritzburg. These consisted of case presentations and discussion followed by a formal talk. Angela Thistlethwaite was first involved in the late 1970's when she was coerced into talking on the treatment of the rheumatoid hand as the chosen speaker was unwell. She continued to be a member at 5 Rand per annum until 2001 when Prof. K.S. Naidoo died and the talks became more integrated with the medical school teaching and the hand club fell away.
The first record she has of being involved with the national hand therapists was attending the congress at Medunsa in 1988 when Ena Niemand presented a combined OT/physio talk on the treatment of the mutilated hand. After that we became members of the Hand therapy society and ran small groups in Durban, which also faded away due to lack of interest by the general OT/physio population.
In the mid to late 1990's we hosted a meeting on brachial plexus lesions prior to the Hand congress and also hosted Nichola Goldsmith and Sarah Mee from the UK who gave a 3 day workshop on basic and advanced hand trauma, Rheumatoid arthritis and splinting.
The therapists most involved in hand rehabilitation from the 1980's were Ena Niemand (OT), Niri Naidoo, Melphy Mchunu and myself with Renee Stewart (OT) also being involved in the 1990's. Niri did her Masters on physiotherapy modalities for wound healing of the palm of the hand and presented a paper on the subject at the International congress in Vancouver as well as at the 1999 refresher course in Durban when she received a prize for her presentation.