In Memory of Dr. Mary Kumalo:



I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn on Wednesday that Dr. Mary Kumalo had died on 13 May, 2009, of gunshots fired at her clinic just outside Harare where the surgeon was treating cases of cholera.  The cholera infection rate in Zimbabwe has hit the 100,000 mark in Africa’s worst outbreak in 15 years.  There have been approximately 4,300 deaths. 


My information came from a spokesperson of Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.  Although details are sketchy, it appears a malnourished infant died at the clinic of the disease and the distraught Shona father, blaming the doctors, retrieved a firearm and fired on the three volunteer physicians, one of which was Dr. Kumalo.  She was killed instantly.  A second, white, doctor died an hour later and the third, from India, survived.  I’m told that patients waiting for treatment subdued the shooter and he was arrested by police.   


The cholera outbreak was born largely as a result of the country's almost entirely col-lapsed water, sanitation and health systems.  “The eradication of cholera in Zimbabwe or the complete conclusion to this current epidemic is unlikely unless the underlying causes of the health crises are addressed," the Groote Schuur spokes-person told me, adding that the situation is exacerbated by Zimbabwe’s socio-economic instability. 


The outbreak started in August last year and spread to surrounding areas in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia.   


Zimbabwe is the most food aid dependent country in the world.  Also, nearly 55% of children who died of cholera were malnourished.  It is believed that more than seven million people are in need of food assistance -- somewhere between 65% and 80% of the population. 


The food crisis was caused by several factors including hyperinflation which disen-franchised many agriculture farmers.  Zimbabwe's fields are sown with substandard seed, scavenged often from granaries or from the side of the road.  It is extraordinarily unlikely that the 2009 harvest will significantly surpass 2008 -- the worst in the country's history.   


The country's woes started escalating in 2000 when President Robert Mugabe's govern-ment lost a referendum to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and sanc-tioned an aggressive land reform program in which white farmers lost their land to war veterans.  This resulted in a food crisis, exacerbated by drought and later by hyper-inflation.    


Princess Mary Kumalo was born in Bulawayo in 1956 to ancestors of King Lobengula, the son of King Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom (in present day Zimbabwe) after being driven north by the Boers in 1837.  Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula granted Cecil John Rhodes the mining rights to part of his territory (there are reports of gold) in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of ₤100.  


With these arrangements satisfactorily achieved, Rhodes sent the first party of colonists north from Bechuanaland in 1890.  In September they settle on the site which today is Harare and begin prospecting for gold.  In support of Rhodes’s scheme, the government declares the area a British protectorate in 1891. 


Princess Kumalo (whose mother was Hispanic) grew up in Bulawayo where she graduated in 1971, with honors, from Bulawayo’s most prestigious undergraduate program.  Her wealthy parents then sent her to the University of Oxford where she applied for but was initially denied a Rhodes scholarship, not because she had black blood (albeit she looked Hispanic), but because she was a woman.  However, times were changing and she was eventually accepted and graduated from Oxford in 1975; again with top honors. 


In 1978 Princess Kumalo graduated as a certified medical doctor from the University of Cape Town Medical College, an extremely rare accomplishment for a woman with a black heritage, even a princess, during apartheid. 


After graduation, she returned to Rhodesia (before it was renamed Zimbabwe) and joined the Selous Scouts, a group of South African mercenaries formed in 1973 to fight for the Ian Smith government against the Marxist rebels.  She not only fought side by side with the Scouts, but also served as the unit’s physician. 


The modern day Scouts were named for a group of Cape providence fighters during the Boar War, lead by Fredrick Courtney Selous.  This modern day unit was abolished with-out benefit of formal disbandment when Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF took power after the British supervised elections in April of 1980.  The Selous scouts were officially credited with being directly responsible for the deaths of 68% of all guerrillas killed within Rhodesia during the war – for the loss of less than 40 Scouts. 


After the Bush War in Zimbabwe, Princess Kumalo was granted a paid staff position to Groote Schuur Hospital, known colloquially as “Grotties,” where she received her certificate as a surgeon.  Grotties is best known as the hospital where professor 


Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant on 3 December 1967, and is affiliated with the University of Cape Town.  Groote Schuur is Dutch for ‘Great Barn’ and is named after the original Groote Schuur estate laid out by Dutch settlers when the city of Cape Town was founded in the 17th Century.      


For the past 16 years Dr. Mary Kumalo was a highly paid surgeon, maintaining a home in Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town, and the family home in Bulawayo; and, of course, her free clinic just outside Harare.  She dated often but never married, claiming she was just too busy to establish any lasting relationship.  Most of her dates were with white men who found her beautiful face and trim, muscular body extremely alluring; but had a hard time adjusting to her intellect.  But many, like me, were attracted by that intellect and astuteness as a student of world politics.  Had a princess Kumalo been elected president in April of 1980 instead of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe today would still be the bread basket of the world, instead of the basket case of the world.   


Sadly, I cannot help seeing the same thing happening to Venezuela and even the United States; at least there are many parallels.  The question is, how many times does history have to repeat itself before we finally learn from the mistakes of others?  Hopefully, in the direction we are headed, the worst that will happen is that we become a second world, debt-ridden country like Denmark, instead of the most prosperous nation on earth.  How-ever, it’s not inconceivable that hyperinflation, which is sure to come if the government continues printing money to pay for Obama’s socialistic programs, will bring the same doom-and-gloom to the United States that it brought to Zimbabwe.   


I find it ironic that in the end, Sergeant Mary Kumalo died of gunfire after having survived many gunfire battles as a Selous Scout.  As a warrior, I’m not so sure that she didn’t prefer this method of departure.   


The funeral was held in Bulawayo with a memorial service in Cape Town.  Matabele (Ndebele) Princess Kumalo is buried in Zimbabwe’s Matopos Hills National Park, a short drive southeast of Bulawayo.  I’m told that her grave is alongside that of ancestor King Lobengula and within two or three hundred feet of the World’s View location of Cecil John Rhodes’ burial site.  She was 53 years old. 


Having regularly corresponded with Princess Kumalo via phone, snail mail, and email over the past 28 years, needless to say I’m devastated and seriously depressed by the news of her death.  It’s as if I’ve lost a family member. 


I last saw Mary Kumalo in Cape Town just prior to the Challenger space shuttle disaster, which occurred on 28 January 1986.  We had dinner at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  TV directors Duke Goldstone, actor-director Gunnar Hellstrom, together with South African producer John Stodel were dinner guests.  The conversation was mainly about the future of Zimbabwe, where at the time Goldstone, Hellstron, Stodel and I were working on a  docudrama on Cecil John Rhodes, for the South African Broad-casting Company (SABC).  I asked Mary; given her choice, with which title would she prefer being ad-dressed: princess, doctor, or sergeant?   Without hesitation, she said sergeant.  That’s how proud she was of her fight against the Marxist…Robert Mugabe…and service with the Selous Scouts.  


Sergeant Kumalo, you will be missed.   


--- Dennis F. Stevens    



My Interview with the Selous Scouts.   


I met Dr. Kumalo during the first of several interviews I did for Reuters with the Selous Scouts, a group of South African mercenaries formed in 1973 to fight for the Ian Smith government against the Marxist rebels.   


Dr. Mary Kumalo, a Matabele princess directly related to the Matabele (Ndebele) king, Lobengula, who ruled Matabeleland, the area from the Matopos hills to Victoria Falls, in the time of Cecil John Rhodes.  Despite his Maxim machine guns, Rhodes never did defeat this amazing ruler, whose headquarters were just outside modern day Bulawayo.   


The modern day Scouts were named for a group of Cape providence fighters during the Boar War, lead by Fredrick Courtney Selous.  This modern day unit was abolished without benefit of formal disbandment when Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF took power after the British supervised elections in April of 1980.  The Selous scouts were officially credited with being directly responsible for the deaths of 68% of all guerrillas killed within Rhodesia during the war – for the loss of less than 40 Scouts. 


My interviews with the Scouts took place from November 1979 through March of 1980, during my frequent trips to Zimbabwe and were considered by my Reuters bureau chief to be journalistic highs.   


In November, 1979, after being blindfolded and flown by helicopter from the back lawn of the Victoria Falls Hotel to the Scouts training camp (which I later learned was located at Lake Kariba), I interviewed the 47 year old commander of the Scouts, Major Ron Reid-Daly, who headed the one thousand strong, integrated unit.    


During the interview with Reid-Daly, I learned that nine of ten volunteers dropped out before wearing the coveted green and brown patch (colors of the bush).  The men and women, both Shona, Matabelle and other blacks who have volunteered, learn to live off the land, carry no water (a person who cannot find water in his area should not be a Selous Scout), report sick only when already dead, and lay down his life for any Government of the Day.  


Major Ron Reid-Daly invited two scouts to accompany us for dinner.  One was the white male training officer, whose name was purposely withheld, and the other a black female volunteer, the 24 year-old slim, tall, muscular beauty, Sergeant Mary Kumalo; the Scouts official physician.   


As dinner progressed, I interviewed the training officer first.  I learned that the Scouts had one of the best stocked aviaries and snake parks in Rhodesia.  The emphasis was on bush survival and the ability to survive for many days at a time if necessary.  A Scout must be able to recognize and make use of whatever vegetation, birds, animals and insects the bush has to offer.   


The instructor further confided, “Everything is of some use to you in the veld.  The more you get familiar with it, the better your chance of survival.  The ignorant person bumbles into trouble wherever he goes.  Certain birds give your presence away.  Butterflies, which some people see as nothing but pretty little insects, are a potent indication of water in the winter months.  We aim to make our students at home in the environment in which they work.  Vegetation not only provides them with food in times of need.  It plays one of the basic roles in tracking.  And certain trees are used medically.  The marula gives the best anti-histamine you can find.”   


I then turned my attention to the tall, muscular Sergeant, Mary Kumalo, who was slim enough to make Grace Jones (in her heyday) look overweight.  Dr. Kumalo’s interview never once mentioned the Scouts, even though she was wearing the coveted green and brown PAMWE CHETE, (all together) patch. 


Instead, Sergeant Kumalo discussed what she perceived as the enemy of Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe.  Immediately after her internship, Kumalo, a graduate of the University of Cape Town Medical Collage (located on the Rhodes Estate on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, in Cape Town), returned to her ancestral home in Bulawayo to resist the communist backed rebels, led by Mugabe.   


At the time Mary Kumalo was conducting this interview, Rhodesia was the bread basket of the world.  Now it’s the basket case of the world.  And all of this was predicted by Sergeant Kumalo back in 1979. 


Sergeant Kumalo, like many black Rhodesian citizens of the time, felt that the Smith government (together with the prosperous South Africa government) was making life in Rhodesia far better than the governments of any of the neighboring sub-Saharan countries.  But in countries like the United States it wasn’t politically correct to say so. 


Black Rhodesian citizens, some Shona but mostly Ndebele (Matabelle), feared that the leftist, communist philosophies of Mugabe would result in fixed elections and eventual land reform proposals that would result in fiscal disaster; which is exactly what happened.  The plight of the white farmers was largely ignored … until it was too late. 


Selous Scout, Mary Kumalo, has always been ready, willing, and able to elaborate on why Robert Mugabe should never have been allowed to become a dogcatcher, let alone President of Zimbabwe.   


Sergeant Kumalo’s interviews were a journalist’s delight.  She predicted exactly what would happen, and in hindsight she was off by a mere decade.  In other words, what is happening today, Princess Kumalo foresaw as happening ten years ago.    


Using a $65,000 state of-the-art Betacam recorder provided by the Johannesburg bureau of ABC News, I framed the video recorder to photograph the two of us in the traditional over the shoulder close-up featuring Dr. Kumalo; after which I reversed the angle to capture a repeat of my questions to the physician in the only on-camera interview I ever did while working for Reuters and ABC News.  The interview with Sergeant Kumalo took place on the rear lawn of the Victoria Falls Hotel and the peaceful setting belied the brutality of what was occurring around us.  The ABC footage was shown around the world.   


If I were a journalist covering Zimbabwe today, I would be falling all over myself to interview Sergeant Kumalo, formally of the Selous Scouts.  Her perspective on those Bantus who opposed Mugabe and the communist rebels is worth listening to.  As she puts it, why did it take seventeen years for the Mugabe Marxists to finally defeat the Ian Smith (British backed) government?  The answer is that the Zimbabwe War of Independence was basically a civil war and not all Bantus rallied around the flag of the Mugabe rebels; whose battle cry was, ironically, change!   


In 1979, the Shonas consisted of 75% of the Rhodesian population and the Ndebele (Matabelle) 21%.  Ninety-eight percent of the Ndebele sided with the Ian Smith government against the rebels, while only fifty-five percent of the Shona showed such support.  While both Ndebele and Shona served with the Scouts, more Ndebele than Shona so served.   


When Mugabe (a Shona) came to power he sent those Shonas loyal to him to exact revenge against the Ndebele for their support of the Ian Smith government.  The result is that today the Shona make up 82 percent of Zimbabwe’s population while the Ndebele, who primarily occupy the western part of the country, consists of only 14 percent.    


Zimbabwe today could have been such a beautiful, peaceful and harmonious country if only …   


Dr. Mary Kumalo, a highly respected surgeon on the staff of Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, where the first heart transplant took place in 1967, has remained a friend over the years, often emailing me with her take on what is currently going on in Zimbabwe and South Africa.  While her medical practice is in Cape Town, she still maintains a home in Bulawayo and a clinic just outside Harare; where piloting her own twin engine Beach Craft, she continues dispensing medical services free of charge to all who require it; an amazing woman.   


--- Dennis F. Stevens

The Selous Scouts, both men and women, are trained to run all day, with little or no clothing, carrying a rifle and 500-rounds of ammunition plus a 75-pound pack.  Dr. Mary Kumalo volunteered to allow me to photograph her for Reuters after which the princess and Scouts sergeant offered to pose for me personally – wearing her running uniform – which turned out to be nothing.  The following are some of those photos.        --- Dennis F. Stevens