Southern African News Features                                           SANF 11 No 30A, October 2011

“He carried the torch that liberated Africa”

Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the father of southern African liberation, and one of the founding fathers of the Southern African Development Community.

Born in Butiama near Lake Victoria on 13 April 1922, when he passed away on 14 October 1999, Africans everywhere shared the sense of loss felt by Tanzanians.

He was Baba wa Taifa, father of the nation, the moving force for the independence of Tanganyika on 9 December 1961 and for its unity with Zanzibar on 26 April 1964 to create the United Republic of Tanzania.

A charismatic leader of sharp intellect and great personal integrity, he welded a country and a national identity from over 120 ethnic groups, united by their language Swahili and by a social harmony constructed on the ideals of peace, justice, unity and personal commitment.

His firm support for equality and tolerance ranged across all diversity of race, religion, class and gender. He encouraged Tanzanian women to play a leadership role in society and adopted a parliamentary system that has guaranteed seats for women.

His pursuit of an equitable socio-economic society through collective self-reliance was more difficult than he had envisaged, and he once said that “we are very good at sharing the wealth in Tanzania but I only wish we had made more wealth to share.”

Tanganyika’s independence in 1961 was an inspiration to those who believed that political independence could be achieved by non-violent means and he worked tirelessly in support of this goal for Zambia (1964), Malawi (1964), Botswana (1966), Lesotho (1966), Mauritius (1968), Swaziland (1968) and Seychelles (1976).

When the other countries of southern Africa were forced into wars of liberation to eventually achieve the same end, Tanzania provided political, material and moral support until independence and majority rule were achieved in 1975 (Mozambique, Angola), 1980 (Zimbabwe), 1990 (Namibia) and finally, 1994 (South Africa).

Nyerere pursued the ideals of liberation, democracy and common humanity into the rest of the continent and, with the leaders of the other few African countries that were independent in 1963, established the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later became the African Union.

The main objective was political liberation for the rest of the continent. Their tool for achieving this, the OAU Liberation Committee, was hosted by Tanzania, and most liberation movements were based there at one time or another.

Nyerere was one of nine leaders who came together in 1980 to establish the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which later became the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The leaders of Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana formed the Front Line States in 1974 to work together in a united front for common security and for majority rule in neighbouring countries, under the chairmanship of Nyerere, and this was a forerunner of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.

The political changes in Namibia and South Africa in 1990 and 1994, changed the face and future of the African continent, and completed the work of the OAU Liberation Committee, but socio-economic development has remained a vision.

The aim of this community, in the terminology popularized by Nyerere, “shall be to promote collective, accelerated, self-reliant and self-sustaining development of Member States; co-operation among these States; and their integration in the economic, social and cultural fields.”

Nyerere retired as president of Tanzania in 1985 and as chairman of the party Chama Cha Mapinduzi in 1990.

After leaving office, Nyerere devoted his vision to mechanisms to strengthen developmental links between developing countries of the South. He chaired the South Commission 1987-90 dedicating the next decade to its service, and was founding patron of the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), based in Harare and Maputo.

Mwalimu often said that his generation had achieved at least one goal, that of the political liberation of Africa, and that the next generations must take up the next goals.

A long memorial verse by his close friend and colleague, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia, reminds us all that, “The best way of mourning him is to carry on where he has left.”

14 October is commemorated as a national holiday in his home country, culminating with the end of the Uhuru Torch Race in which the independence torch is carried around the country by runners in relays. Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region.

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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