“Greater love no man has than this; that a man lays down his life for his friends. Luisa Gudotti, killed on 6 July 1979 along with all those of this area died for us. May their souls rest in peace.”
This is inscribed on a plaque at the Dr Luisa memorial site at All Souls Mission. The community around All Souls Mission in Mutoko recently held a special memorial service in commemoration of Doctor Luisa Guidotti, a great Italian woman who sacrificed her life for the people of Zimbabwe.
At the height of the liberation war, she dedicated her life to helping the sick, the injured and the poor in a remote rural community.
Speaking at the memorial service, the Italian ambassador to Zimbabwe, Enrico De Agostini paid tribute to Dr Luisa.
He said, “Doctor Guidotti worked hard in Mutoko, treating poor people. She was taken out but her legacy lives on. We are very proud of this legacy. This memorial shows recognition of the generosity of an Italian woman who gave up the good life in her country to come to Zimbabwe and work in a hostile environment helping under privileged people.”
The ambassador said the people of Italy have always looked at the people of Zimbabwe as friends and that is why individuals like Dr Luisa did so much to support the people in Zimbabwe.
“Luisa Gudotti’s sacrifice and service shows her integrity, compassion and love for other people. As an Italian that makes me proud of the spirit that drives us,” said Ambassador De Agostini.
Dr Luisa Guidotti (1932-1979) was a devout Catholic lay missionary who worked as the resident doctor at the All Souls Catholic Mission Hospital from 1969 until her untimely death at the height of the liberation struggle, at the hands of the Rhodesian forces.
Her death provides an insight into the harsh reality of the liberation war in Zimbabwe. On July 6 1979, the caring doctor met her tragic death when two Rhodesian soldiers opened fire at her ambulance, which was marked with a Red Cross, in broad daylight. She was on her way from the nearby Nyadire Mission Hospital where she had gone to transfer a woman in labour.
According to her close friend, Father John Dove, who wrote a biography after her death, “Just before she turned off to All Souls Mission on the fateful day, she was stopped by Rhodesian soldiers who were milling around the area as one of them had been killed. There was no road block, only soldiers. Luisa waited and then evidently thinking she was free to go, she drove on and slowly turned right proceeding off the tar to the dust road leading to the mission hospital.”
According to Father Dove’s account of that day’s events, that is when the commandant of the garrison gave the order to fire. Three shots were fired by one soldier while another soldier fired a fourth shot hitting the ambulance.
According to one witness she only said the words, “I am a doctor. Why are you shooting me?” As she lay in the car, bleeding.
At the inquest after the death, a witness told the court that he heard one of the black Rhodesian soldiers saying, “Anochengeta magandanga, nhasi apfurwa.” – meaning that Dr Luisa looks after terrorists and now she has been shot dead.
Dr Luisa’s dedication to her work endeared her to both the Mutoko community and the guerrillas operating in the area under the leadership of Cde Mugabe who at the time was labelled an extremist terrorist. She provided treatment for bullet and grenade wounds, bomb burns, landmine injuries and general illness.
This put her on a collision course with the Rhodesian security forces and the government as they accused her of helping and giving medical care to guerrillas that were injured in the several clashes of the fight for the liberation of the country.
The Rhodesian authorities labelled Dr Guidotti an enemy of the state. However, they could not arrest her as they did not have concrete proof.
One of the most prominent Zimbabweans that Doctor Guidotti helped was Mbuya Bona Mugabe, the President’s late mother. Luisa visited Mbuya Bona in Highfield when she was taken ill in 1978. The Doctor then arranged for the President’s mother to get treatment at a decent hospital, the whites only St Annes in Avondale.
This was made possible by Sister Margaret, the Superior of the Catholic nuns that ran St Annes Hospital who smuggled Mbuya Bona into the hospital. Following her admission to St Annes, Professor Michael Gelfand then provided his medical services; treating Mbuya Bona of severe hypertension at no charge. Four years after Dr Luisa’s death, President Mugabe, then Prime Minister of the newly independent Zimbabwe, drove with his mother to All Souls Mission to unveil a memorial plaque in memory of Dr Guidotti.
Speaking at the occasion, President Mugabe paid tribute to the great Italian doctor who had helped his ailing mother in 1978.
He said, “We are gathered here to remember one of us who left us, Dr Luisa Guidotti. She died a violent death, not alone but like many others. I met her briefly at Silveira House at the invitation of Father Dove in 1974. I was really sad on hearing of her death because she helped so many wounded comrades during the war. Those who shot her did so with the knowledge of who was in the ambulance. Dr Luisa was one of the many good shepherds in the Mutoko area who gave their lives so that others could find joy and freedom in Zimbabwe.”
In the foreword to the biography by Father Dove, President Mugabe wrote, “This a true and tragic story about an Italian woman doctor, a devout missionary who lost her own life while on a mission to save the lives of others.”
In the biography, Father Dove described Luisa as a “great extrovert, friendly with everybody and always ready to chat no matter what else had been done.”
Commenting on the life and example of Doctor Guidotti, the current Medical Superintend at Luisa Guidotti Hospital, Dr Massimo Migani said, “The commemoration is held annually to recall her memory, service and sacrifice for the communities of Mutoko and Zimbabwe in general.
“Luisa for all of us working at Luisa Guidotti Hospital is a hero, a patron saint and an example of life dedicated to people in need. Those who knew her describe her as a very humble person, full of humanity. Luisa’s, example teaches us that spending our lives honouring and protecting human life is simply right and just.”