SOME, BUT not many, stories of heroism go back through the generations. This is one that does.
In the early 19th century, a Scottish missionary embarked on a ship called Alacrity. He was a skilled gardener and practical man, but he had that tough respect for the power of the written word that came with a traditional Scottish education. He set off for southern Africa, for the Cape Colony, which at that time was a partly uncharted and wild place. Once there, he travelled widely and eventually established a mission station at Kuruman, upcountry from the more settled Cape of Good Hope. It was a hard life, and missionaries had to do everything - doctoring included.
But one of the most extraordinary aspects of Robert Moffat's life was the series of visits he paid to the war-like Matabele king, Mizilikazi, at his capital near Bulawayo to the north. Mizilikazi admired Moffat greatly and loved having long conversations with him. He also appreciated the relief that Moffat's medical ministrations brought for him for his gout.
Moffat's daughter, Mary, married David Livingstone. A son, John Smith Moffat, served as an administrator in the Bechuanaland Protectorate (the earlier name for Botswana). His own son, Howard Moffat, became the second prime minister of Southern Rhodesia. It is this Howard Moffat's grandson, the current Howard Moffat, who carries on the work of this extraordinary dynasty. He is a doctor in Botswana. He has devoted his life to the alleviation of suffering in Africa. That is what he does.
I knew him as a boy. Much later, when I was spending the best part of a year in Swaziland, I used to travel across to see him and his wife, Fiona, in a small place called Mochudi, north of Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. He was then running a small hospital on a hill. There were not many resources and they had to make do as best they could. I remember seeing the sheets from the hospital hanging out to dry on the line behind the wards. Many of the sheets were brown with blood stains, but were still in use. And when we walked around the wards, children came up and took his hand, and looked up at him with affection.
Later he moved to Gaborone and took up a post as a physician in the large government hospital there, the Princess Marina Hospital. …