He once chuckled at the fact that there were those who regarded him as “a cheeky African,” but Dumisani Kumalo fully embraced that designation.
Kumalo, who died Jan. 20 at age 71, was that, and much more. A native of KwaMbunda, South Africa, he was an anti-apartheid activist, lobbying in the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s for divestment. He was part of Nelson Mandela’s government after white minority rule ended in 1994. And he was ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2009 under Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor as president.
Kumalo, who reportedly succumbed to an asthma attack, was accorded a state funeral in Midrand on Jan. 26. Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, told the Sunday World after his passing that the entire nation would do well to “celebrate the contribution Ambassador Kumalo made in the fight against apartheid during his years in exile in the United States, which culminated in the UN Security Council recognising apartheid as a crime against humanity.”
The African National Congress, meanwhile, said in a statement that it “dips its revolutionary flag and extends its condolences to the family, friends, as well as to his fellow comrades in the struggle for liberation of the oppressed.”
Born Sept. 16, 1947, Kumalo’s early embrace of anti-apartheid causes resulted in his exile to the U.S. in 1977. Once there, he lobbied in all 50 states against investing in companies that did business with South Africa, while serving as project director for the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund. One of the highlights of his efforts came in 1986, when the U.S. Congress overrode the veto of President Ronald Reagan to pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.
Actions like that, as well as his activism against Great Britain, led some in both countries to the aforementioned “cheeky” designation, as he told the Voice of America in 2009.
Not that he minded.
“I am,” he told the VOA, “happy being a cheeky African.”