Dr David Parirenyatwa – Correspondent
The late Dr McLeod Chitiyo was the first indigenous Zimbabwean pathologist, having qualified as a medical doctor in 1960 from the University of Natal.McLeod was born in Mutare to Ernest and Catherine Chitiyo in 1932.Ernest was a well known successful pioneer Mbare businessman with extensive social networks. Catherine was a well groomed housewife from the Dzikiti clan of the Makoni tribe.
McLeod’ s early life was informed by this consummate social family of 11 siblings, him being the second child in this family. He was one of the very first pupils to be enrolled at the newly opened Chitsere Primary School in Mbare in 1946.
Like his uncle before him, Dr Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa, (a Dzikiti), he enrolled at Adams College in Natal in 1949 for his Matriculation.
He was a bright student, who in 1953 won a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Natal.
At medical school, “He would entertain us with his guitar in our room,” said Dr Sipho Zwana, a classmate at Natal, and a renowned Zimbabwean pioneer anaesthetist.
McLeod completed his medical degree in 1960.
He had to juggle medical studies with family responsibilities. He had married Wynona Chieza in 1959, a Zimbabwean nurse who had trained in Durban.
The Chitiyos returned home to then Southern Rhodesia and McLeod did his housemanship in 1961 at the famous Harare Hospital commonly known as “Pagomo”.
During those pioneer days for Zimbabwean African medical doctors, the newly graduated African doctors were subject to thorough and more severe scrutiny especially by their European colleagues.
Could black people practise proper allopathic medicine? Could they be professional and ethical?
Dr Chitiyo proved to be an excellent, meticulous medical practitioner who earned a lot of respect from his colleagues, both black and white.
The team of Zimbabwean pioneer doctors were people of immense courage coupled with high intellect for them to be admitted into and to succeed in the hostile overwhelmingly white medical schools dominated by white students and white lecturers.
At that time the white apartheid South Africa regime was viscerally convinced that Africans were essentially inferior to whites in all respects.
Pioneer doctors included Dr Tichafa Samuel Parirenyatwa who was the first black doctor in Zimbabwe qualifying in 1956 (Wits) followed by Dr Edward Pswarayi 1957 (Wits). Thereafter came Dr Silas Mundawarara followed by Dr Matondo then came Drs Chitiyo, Zwana, Ngorima, Sadza, Mazhindu, Ushewokunze, Mazorodze, Munyaradzi all in a space of five years.
Allow me to make a book compilation of all these inspiring Zimbabwean pioneer doctors.
I digress. On completion of his houseman-ship, Dr Chitiyo was assigned to the then Nyasaland (Malawi) as this was part and parcel of the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
As government medical officer at Port Herald Hospital, McLeod as usual, diligently worked with the poor people of that locality from 1962 to 1963 before returning to Harare.
In 1964 Dr Chitiyo and wife were posted to Ndanga Hospital, him as the District Medical Officer and her as nurse in-charge. After a fruitful stint of five years at Ndanga, the couple returned to Harare Hospital where he worked in the pathology department.
Pathology was indeed to become his specialist discipline of passion.
In 1971 he then moved to specialise at Hammersmith Hospital in London to pursue his chosen speciality of pathology, completing his pathology examinations with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of London. He thus qualified as the first African pathologist in the then Rhodesia.
On his immediate return home, he worked at both Harare and Mpilo hospitals in the laboratory, subsequently lecturing undergraduate and postgraduate students at the University Zimbabwe.
He was a pioneer pathologist into private practice in pathology in Zimbabwe, partnering with Dr George Barclay as Barclay and Chitiyo Laboratories, a much relied upon top class medical pathology outfit.
On selling this outfit to CIMAS, the two continued as consultants to the CIMAS laboratory.
Dr Chitiyo was heavily involved with the National Blood Service where his technical input was much valued as the country continued to maintain safe and sustainable blood donations and blood screening.
To this day the NBS is arguably one of the best on the continent.
Being the first pathologist in the country, Dr Chitiyo became one of the founder members of the Pathology Association of Zimbabwe, a key professional body seeking to promote the highest standards of academic and practical excellence in pathology services in Zimbabwe.
Says Professor Cekana, a highly respected Zimbabwean pathologist: “I feel greatly proud to have been mentored by a teacher like Dr Chitiyo. He was a man of a great intellect and professionalism. He will be greatly missed.”
Added a youth representing the Zimbabwe Medical Association, “I did not know that my teacher in pathology Prof Cekana, was himself mentored by Dr Chitiyo. This is humbling.”
McLeod was a solid family man who was inseparable from his loving wife Wynona.
His daughter, Catherine, a lawyer said; “Dad was my best friend.”
Although a private family man, he loved to be visited and to entertain.
His humour was piercing and unique. He was an accomplished jazz guitarist who carried you along as he sang Frank Sinatra’s ballads or Satcho’s classics.
Dr Chitiyo was on renal dialysis and had cardiac by-pass surgery.
He passed on March 2, 2015.
He is survived by his wife, Wynona, a daughter, Catherine, son Knox and three grand children.
He left an indelible footprint in the annals of Zimbabwe medical history.
He was a great inspiration to many. He will be greatly missed.
My passionate call and plea to the younger generation of doctors is for them to remain humble and committed to their work and to advance patient care in an ethical and professional manner.
This would be a great tribute not only to the Zimbabwean pioneer doctors, but also to the whole Zimbabwean medical fraternity.
Dr Pagwesese David Parirenyatwa (BSc MB; BS. FCPCP(Zim)) is the Minister of Health and Child Care.