The South African Mission to the United Nations has observed a moment of silence in memory of former envoy to the organisation Ambassador Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo who passed away on Sunday.

His successor in that role and current Ambassador Jerry Matjila confirmed an outpouring of messages of condolence from missions to the UN, describing Kumalo as a colossal figure in the halls of the organisation.

The United Nations Chief Antonio Guterres also offered his condolences to the people and Government of South Africa.

“Okay. You’ve got all the answers now. But, I’m here.” Such was the personality of Kumalo, even during the tricky negotiations on imposing Security Council sanctions on Zimbabwe – he was firm if a bit familiar.

“We do not believe at all the Zimbabwe is a threat to international peace and security, yes we condemn the violence that’s going on in Zimbabwe, yes we condemn the political mediation, for us it’s not theoretical, we are seeing it because when people flee from Zimbabwe, they come to our country so we understand, we share the frustration of everybody but we are saying that don’t take measures that are going to complicate the situation and literally blow the country apart.”

The current Ambassador Jerry Matjila called his predecessor a shrewd and nimble diplomat who had a strong command for the processes of international engagement.

“You know where I’m standing, Ambassador Kumalo used to stand here many times in defence of multilateral system, in defence of peace and security in advance of South African interests. He was a well-known figure in the corridors of Security Council just behind us. His voice was sought after, his ideas. He was a colleague who I knew, very articulate, very robust and yet a sincere human being, he was always trying to find ways of building bridges between the nations of the UN in pursuit of peace and security and that’s why he’s so missed in these chambers of the Council and UN generally.”

Pretoria’s tenure in the Security Council would see Kumalo as the face of South Africa’s often controversial positions as it pertained to the human rights situations in Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Sudan among others.

And as diplomats recall it, Kumalo displayed diplomatic dexterity and a political sophistication in finding a balance between the levels of international engagement required while allowing the space for regions, for example Africa, to find solutions to their own problems without the threat of punitive measures when, perhaps the circumstances did not always warrant it.

“We have always as South Africa tried to find a value add by allowing the neighbourhood to play a particular role, a responsibility and Ambassador Kumalo mastered that. We used to have the big four in SA , Ambassador Kumalo, the late Jackie Selebi, the late Tebogo Mafole and Welile Nhlapho – these guys were not only huge in body, they had big minds and experience and combined they could assist the government to formulate robust consistent policy so Ambassador Kumalo benefited from this deep-rooted collective thinking.”

In a statement current UK Ambassador Karen Pierce who served with Kumalo called him a tireless and smart representative for South Africa; a true humanitarian who always highlighted the effect Council deliberations had on ordinary citizens.

The UN Chief has also expressed his sympathy through spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. “I very much remember Ambassador Kumalo, I was a young spokesperson at the time in early 2000 and I remember his infectious laugh, I remember the wonderful relations he had with the media and I think he represented South Africa and a new SA so well in the halls of the UN.”

Veteran Journalist Edith Lederer started work at the UN in 1998, just months before Ambassador Kumalo would arrive.

“He came to the UN just after I arrived, not long after, and covering the Security Council, all of the journalists loved him because he would come out of the Security Council and talk to us whereas a lot of Ambassadors shy away – you could catch him going in, you could catch him going out and he would always tell you what’s on his mind. And I have to say that didn’t always endear him to fellow Ambassadors on the Security Council.”

Larger than life in every way; charm, whit and a booming laugh to boot… as evidenced in this response on a question about who should block the possible sanctions resolution on Zimbabwe in 2008.

– Who would you rather veto it, Russia or China? “ I don’t know, if they’re going to do that, I would rather prefer I veto it if you make me permanent.” Click below for more on the story: