Erika Sutter: Seen with Other Eyes. Memories of a Swiss Eye Doctor in Rural South Africa

  • Foreword by Mamphela Ramphele
  • Introduction and one chapter by Frances Lund
  • Language: English
  • 2014
  • 124 pages
  • Illustrations, map
  • Vol. 10
  • ISBN 978-3-905758-33-7
  • ISSN: 1660-9638
  • eISBN 978-3-905758-47-4
  • eISSN 2297-461X
Gertrud Stiehle

Erika Sutter: Seen with Other Eyes. Memories of a Swiss Eye Doctor in Rural South Africa

The Swiss ophthalmologist Erika Sutter was born in Basel in 1917. She spent 32 years working in Elim Hospital, founded by the Swiss Mission in an impoverished rural area in North-Eastern South Africa. Together with her African colleague and friend, Selina Maphorogo, she founded the Care Groups, village self-help groups working for better health in their communities. The movement is still active after more than 30 years, and now has around 2,000 members, mostly women, in over 200 villages. Erika Sutter has received numerous international honours and awards for her pioneering work, including the award “Woman of the Year” in 1984 from the South African newspaper “The Star”, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel.

For the creation of this biography, Erika Sutter spent many hours with the author, her friend Gertrud Stiehle, telling the story of her long life – vividly, with a sharp eye for social issues, a hint of self-irony, and dry wit. Her account does not ignore events in the wider world. She experienced life on the Swiss-German border during the Second World War, and her years of working in South Africa were those when the apartheid policies of the South African Government were becoming more and more repressive, affecting many aspects of life in the country.

Gertrud Stiehle was born in southern Germany in 1936 and has lived in Basel since 1960. Work in church organisations in the area of mission and development brought her into contact with Africa, and after she retired, she studied anthropology, and did research on the life histories of widows in Cameroon.


Frances Lund is an Associate Professor in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa.

A healer and torch bearer: A foreword byMamphela Ramphele

Preface by Frances Lund

In lieu of an introduction: Immersing myself in the life of Erika Sutter

I The Roots

II Childhood and Adolescence

III University Studies during World War II and starting in a profession

IV Preparing for Africa

V The Path to Ophthalmology

VI Head of the Eye Hospital in Elim

VII The most meaningful years in Erika’s life: The Care Groups (written by Frances Lund)

VIII Retirement and the return to Basel

IX A final look back and forward: A conversation between Erika Sutter and Gertrud Stiehle


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