The history of the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) had a useful prelude and a very eventful course. The first step towards the establishment of a local organised veterinary profession dates from the inauguration of the Transvaal Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) on 16 February 1903 in Johannesburg. Capt. J. Irvine-Smith was elected as its first President. The Cape of Good Hope followed with the Cape of Good Hope Veterinary Medical Society, later referred to as the Cape Veterinary Medical Society (CVMS), on 1 November 1905 in Cape Town with D. Hutcheon as President. The inaugural meeting of the Natal Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA) took place in Pietermaritzburg on 19 November 1909 with Col. H. Watkins-Pitchford as elected President. The Orange Free State did not have its own veterinary association.
The TVMA held a Special General Meeting on 12 January 1909 when the new laboratory at Onderstepoort was officially opened. With political Union looming in 1910, one item that was discussed was the formation of a Central Federated Veterinary Medical Association for the whole of South Africa, or even southern Africa. At a TVMA meeting on 23 June 1910 there was general agreement that a South African Veterinary Medical Association should be formed out of the TVMA, CVMS and NVMA. However, nothing materialised for a further 9 years.
It was only in 1919 that the TVMA took the initiative to revive the matter, and the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) was inaugurated on 1 April 1920 on the strength of a unanimous decision taken at a General Meeting of the TVMA held in the Board Room of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society in Johannesburg. The TVMA would ‘sacrifice its identity’, handing over all the funds at its disposal to the new SAVA, whilst its existing office bearers would, in the interim, be officers of the SAVA.
Its first President was RE Montgomery, but the Vice-President, CE Gray, acted as President in his absence at what was also the first de facto AGM of the SAVA. The 79 member strong SAVA therefore represented the amalgamated Transvaal, Cape and Natal veterinary medical bodies. At the time the Natal and Cape organizations, although inactive, still possessed funds that were later transferred to the SAVA. The name of the SAVA was changed to the South African Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) at a General Meeting on 11 April 1922. It only reverted back to its current name almost 50 years later, in 1971.
Through intensive and prolonged lobbying, the SAVMA eventually succeeded in having the Veterinary Act (Act No. 16 0f 1933) promulgated, Hjalmar Reitz launching it through the Union Parliament as a private motion. The SAVMA’s early goal of having the professional status of the South African veterinarian legally entrenched had finally been realised.
Anthea Fleming was the first woman to be elected as President of the SAVA. SAVA membership rose from the 79 in 1920 to 350 in 1953, 900 in 1978, 1400 in 1996 and currently exceeds 1650 members. The growing membership required increasing administrative involvement and capabilities. Whereas an Honorary Secretary managed the affairs of the Association until 1960, a full time Secretary was appointed the following year. Tienie Roos was the first Director of the SAVA, his appointment dating from 1976. The SAVA’s officials have now served their profession for more than 90 years with an unselfish dedication that is remarkable by any standards.
In the beginning the venue of the office of the Association changed with the office-bearing Honorary Secretary: names like Mike de Lange, Gene Weiss and Gerard Sutton, all working from their own offices, come to mind. In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s offices at the city end of Esselen Street in Sunnyside, the Tobacco Board in Edmund Street, Central Street in the CBD and once again the Tobacco Board were utilised when full time secretaries became the vogue. In the early 1980s the Board Room of the Meat Board was used for Federal Council meetings, but the need for an own ‘home’ with a council chamber was mounting.
This dream was brought to fruition when Prof WO Neitz bequeathed his home in Brooklyn to the SAVA in 1979. A usufruct agreement in favour of Prof. Neitz’s sisters delayed utilisation of the property for several years. But it provided financial security for purchasing an own house-office in Monument Park. When the Neitz property was eventually sold, the money was used to build the WO Neitz council chamber – inaugurated in 1997 – as an extension of the Monument Park house. Finally, in 2008, the existing building in Monument Park was demolished and a brand new office building constituting the New Vet House, which was inaugurated on 18 April 2009, erected on the property.
In the early years of the SAVMA, virtually all its office bearers and members were government veterinarians. As private practice came into its own, particularly after World War II, and the number of members increased the balance of power swung towards private practitioners. The functions of the Association also broadened. This was naturally reflected in the composition of the SAVA’s elected Federal Council. It soon changed from consisting of elected members only to a larger body that also provided for participation of branches, situated in various parts of the country, and groups. The latter represented the mainly species-based disciplines in which veterinarians tended to specialise such as small animals, production animals, horses, pigs, poultry and wildlife, but some activity-based disciplines are also represented. The number of subcommittees of Federal Council also increased dramatically as its functions multiplied. Currently 11 branches, 9 groups and 15 subcommittees are represented on the Council. Currently the structure of the SAVA is in a state of flux due to the necessity of appointing a Board of Directors in the place of the existing Federal Council to meet new government legal requirements. It will also be necessary to change the Constitution of the SAVA to facilitate these changes.
The Association’s leadership in the promotion of government recognition and regularisation in the early days of the profession has been referred to above.
Some other highlights of its involvement on behalf of its members are the following:
- The remuneration of veterinarians in the public sector was very actively pursued with the Department of Agriculture, especially through various Ministers, during the presidential term of Dr AP Schutte (1976-1978), which had positive results for state veterinarians at Onderstepoort and in Field Services in the early 1980s.
- Purposeful liaison with other professions and related associations such as the Medical/Dental Association, the Pharmaceutical Association and Agricultural and Animal Science Societies and, more recently, the Black Veterinary Forum.
- Very active involvement in the affairs of the statutory South African Veterinary Board and South African Veterinary Council, its successor, by virtue of constant promotion of the status and career interests of veterinarians as professional scientists.
- Establishment of the South African Veterinary Foundation which supports various worthy causes, such as high priority research, that are in the interest of the profession in its widest sense.
The history of the SAVA has never been static. New objectives are continually being identified during regularly held strategic planning sessions by the current policy-making body, the Federal Council. Implementation of future decisions will continue to shape the history of this erudite and dynamic profession.