The Passing of a Gentle Warrior

May 2007

The world has lost a gentle warrior, Professor Sam Mhlongo, who many of our friends have met over the years. On the 6th of October, 2006, in a terrible accident on his way home from work, Sam died immediately after a truck crashed into the driver’s side of his car.

Sam was born in 1940, in South Africa, into the proud Zulu tribe. He opposed Apartheid and was imprisoned on Robben Island as a teen. He went into exile from South Africa via Botswana. Settling in London, he studied medicine, became a GP, and specialized in cardiology. He was the personal physician of most of the exiled leaders of the African National Congress (the opposition party to Apartheid). While in London he met Maria, they married and had two beautiful sons, Shaka and Zwide. After spending 36 years in the UK, he returned to South Africa in 1998 to help rebuild his country. He was head of Family Practice at MEDUNSA (Medical University of Southern Africa) at the invitation of the Gauteng Health Authority and the University. President Mbeki appointed him adviser on Family Health with responsibilities for correcting historic problems and developing services in new communities in the Johannesburg area.

Sam spent his life fighting injustice. He was a person of integrity and commitment. One overall comment about Sam on everybody's lips was: He wouldn't compromise if he really believed in something. He didn't compromise during Apartheid and he wouldn't accept the orthodox dogma on AIDS.

He fought Apartheid created by the white minorities in South Africa. He battled against the global AIDS industry, realizing through his own experience as a medical doctor, that it was a cover up for the diseases caused by the extreme poverty of his people. Throughout, he kept his humor, was never bitter and was fun to be with. As his wife, Maria, so aptly states, “When he entered a room he brought the South African sunshine with him. He was a ray of light.”

In the recent months before Sam’s death, his life was in transition and he was very excited about the direction it was taking. He was immersed in several very positive projects. He planned to open a small hospital/clinic to treat patients in the ways he knew to be best, setting an example of how to deal with the poor and impoverished people of his beloved country. Other doctors were eager to join him on this project. In this endeavor he was working with people in South Korea and China and was very impressed with what he saw there. 

In July 2007, he was going to leave MEDUNSA to join the Department of Health in Johannesburg. The Department asked him to help re-design Primary Care Delivery to the whole country, knowing this was one of the most urgent needs in South Africa. While at MEDUNSA, Sam saw poorly trained medical students graduating, creating a system dangerously bereft of appropriate medical care. 

Ironically, if Sam could have continued in this new direction he would have worked near home. He would have avoided the hazardous rush hour driving that took his life.

Not only a personal loss, Sam’s passing was a blow to the nation. People at every level of the society mourn him. He is irreplaceable. 


David Rasnick and Terri Esther

Professor Sam Mhlongo