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Neurosurgery emerged as an independent discipline in Cape Town with the return of Dr Herman de Villiers Hamman in 1946, following training in Munich and Edinburgh. He initially faced opposition to the establishment of a neurosurgical unit at Groote Schuur Hospital, but was eventually appointed to the staff, initially as a registrar in March 1948 and then as honorary neurosurgeon in 1949.

Initially operating facilities were made available in the general surgical theatres but this was not an ideal situation and Dr Hamman discovered an unused theatre suite in the Groote Schuur Hospital Nursing Home. This had been built as a Private Block but had never been fully commissioned and the theatres were literally falling apart. At Dr Hamman’s insistence, this space was housed the neurosurgical theatre from 15 August 1948. Neurosurgery took root in this building (subsequently known as “J Block”) until the move to New Main Building in 1988.

Helen and Morris Mauerberger

Dr JP van Niekerk became Hamman’s first trainee in 1950, followed by Dr Peter Keet and Dr AP Rose-Innes. After training with Norman Dott in Edinburgh, Mr Alec Gonski was appointed as the second consultant in 1952, followed by Keet and Rose-Innes. 1966 saw the appointment of Dr Peter le Roux and Dr JC “Kay” de Villiers, who had trained with Mr Wyllie McKissock in London.

Kay de Villiers became the first full-time head of neurosurgery in 1970, was promoted to associate professor at UCT in 1972 and became the first incumbent of the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Chair of Neurosurgery in 1976. He was followed by Jonathan C Peter in 1993 and Graham Fieggen in 2008.