Fulminating active rheumatic carditis has been observed for over 3 decades in this environment with no recent alteration in either the incidence or the pattern of presentation. Patients are black, seldom older than 20 years and are usually in their early teens but may occasionally be as young as five years. Heart failure is prevalent but occurs only when a haemodynamically important left-sided valve lesion supervenes. Regurgitation is the predominant valve lesion and involves principally the mitral valve. Mitral annular dilatation is the initial pathology and predisposes to lengthening--or rupture--of chordae tendineae and prolapse of the anterior leaflet. The resultant cardiac work-overload apparently perpetuates the rheumatic activity. Heart failure, whether caused by or associated with active rheumatic carditis, makes surgical management of the valve lesion mandatory as a life-saving measure. Mitral valve repair, rather than replacement, is the surgical procedure of choice but is not always practicable when the rheumatic activity is fulminant, significant aortic regurgitation associated or the surgeon relatively inexperienced. Aggressive medical therapy for heart failure, which should include vasodilator drugs, provides temporary improvement only. Contrary to ongoing doctrine, treatment with steroid drugs is neither life-saving nor beneficial. Varying degrees of left ventricular dysfunction are encountered pre-operatively and may be a sequel of the severe regurgitant valve lesion rather than of a rheumatic 'myocardial factor'.