For the first time today I had a real reason to visit the grand Hosptial de Moçambique. The imposing hospital in Ilha de Moçambique radiates the pride of a major civic institution constructed in 1877 to fill a need for a modern hospital and signal a firm commitment to the civilizing mission of the Portuguese empire and its presence in southern Africa at a crucial point in its history. The hospital is located where the city of stone and whitewash meets the city of macuti, along the dividing line established in 1868 between which type of building materials was allowed, between rich and poor, and later between citizen and native.
The Hospital of Ilha de Moçambique is the only large neoclassical structure on the island. On the information plaque which is in the process of being produced for the building at the moment, it will say it is in “Schinkel style”. Doric columns and cornices ending in lush corner ornaments on the roof decorate the facade spread out in three main volumes. Today only one of these three volumes is in use, housing the health department of Ilha. The middle one still lets you climb the 16 slightly too high steps to the main entrance, making sure you remember how small you are and how great is civilization and its institutions.
If you enter the empty building to the right of the entrance, where the pharmacy used to be, you can see how the deteriorating walls are constructed. They are built using a “woven net” or fence of mangrove sticks like in the mud or wattle and daub (pau a pique) architecture of the macuti neighbourhoods. In places the mangrove has been eaten completely by termites due to exposure. The construction wood, called “iron wood” or micrusse, is very strong, termite resistent and still in perfect condition. Local construction methods have been united with the symbols of 19th century modernity to create the grand hospital.
To see a doctor, you enter a waiting room and are given a number. Then you wait. Adira and Duaifa, two ladies from Ilha and from Djembesse on the mainland respectively, are number 35 and 19 in line. Doctor Júlio is working as fast as he can. I don’t need to see the doctor, but get a prescription for the pharmacy from the general medicine practitioner.
The pharmacy is on the other side of the main internal street. The buildings composing the grand facade, are hiding a relatively well functioning hospital divided into ten separate buildings at their back. The pharmacy is not yet open this morning, so we wait. I leave and come back an hour later. The pharmacist is there now. I hand in the prescription and wait again. Since I am easily bored today, I try to talk to people, smile at old ladies who speak makhuwa and no Portuguese, ask to photograph people who tend to accept only reluctantly.
There are people carrying x-ray photographs, charts for malnourished children, sick children, sleeping children, large handbags with containers of food and tea. The majority of the people waiting are women, dressed in their most colourful local or Tanzanian, capulanas. In the end my name is called out, taking me completely by surprise as I have slowly gotten used to the meditative state of waiting.
3. Five star hotel?
The future of the hospital was on the agenda for a meeting including many top district politicians yesterday. A proposal, including architectural design by a famous Mozambican architect, for turning the grand hospital into a five star grand hotel, has been submitted by an international consortium. The architectonic project shows a respectful way of saving the buildings and a potentially interesting hotel complex.
But what would such a large hotel do to the workings of the little city of Ilha? The space in front of the hospital now has a school, which would be moved to recreate the park which was laid out in the 19th century as Hospital de Moçambique was built. The hospital may be given new buildings by the investors, possibly in Lumbo on the mainland, with a smaller clinic in Ilha. What about the parking spaces needed for large groups of luxury tourists? Water and electricity? What impact does it have, placing a luxury hotel just where the poorer parts of the city meet the old colonial city?
The hotel project did not receive final approval yet. There are alternative projects, and there are many issues to be discussed thoroughly. Saving the monumental structure of a hospital built for another age and for another capital city, is a large project.
Should the hospital maybe be divided into smaller concessions, the different buildings housing different functions and thus relieving it of some of its monolithic character?