Tanzania weeps for father of the nation

Alex Duval Smith
Tuesday 19 October 1999 23:00

In the biggest outpouring of collective grief that southern Africa has ever seen, Tanzania yesterday threw itself into a 48-hour non-stop orgy of tears for Baba wa Taifa - the father of the nation - Julius Nyerere, who died from leukemia last Thursday in London.

In the biggest outpouring of collective grief that southern Africa has ever seen, Tanzania yesterday threw itself into a 48-hour non-stop orgy of tears for Baba wa Taifa - the father of the nation - Julius Nyerere, who died from leukemia last Thursday in London.

Tomorrow, the Princess Royal and dignitaries from all over the world, including the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, will arrive for the state funeral in Dar es Salaam. But for now, this is very much a family affair - 30 million people grieving as one for Mwalimu - the teacher.

President Benjamin Mkapa attended a Roman Catholic funeral Mass yesterday which spilled outside St Joseph's cathedral. Thousands of people were able to watch proceedings on giant video screens. Cardinal Polycarp Openga praised former president Nyerere for his honesty and integrity on a continent where so many leaders are known for their corruption.

Mama Graça - Nelson Mandela's wife, Graça Machel - is here, always by the side of Mama Maria, widow of the late former president. On the television, a tearful little girl sings "you did more in your life than all the water in the sea''.

At the national stadium, where the body was taken yesterday after it was flown back from London, nothing is pompous but everything is meticulously arranged.

There were two weeks of prayers by all religions for former president Nyerere, who lay dying in Saint Thomas's Hospital, and the country was prepared.

The body of the man who ruled Tanzania from 1962 until 1985, when he stepped down, will remain in the stadium for viewing, night and day, until Thursday.

Yesterday, thousands upon thousands of people filed through the specially constructed glass house where the former president Nyrere lies in state beneath an enlarged photograph of him in an open-necked shirt, smiling. From time to time, a choir sang or the band struck up Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika , the national anthem.

Lucas Kizigha, a clerk, 25, who had come to pay his last respects said: "He was our father. He united us. He knew evil and crushed it, like Idi Amin, and he knew what was good. All the southern African liberation movements - Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique - have his vision to thank for their success. When he died, he was trying to bring peace to Burundi.''

Outside, the streets were mostly deserted. Dar es Salaam, which means "haven of peace'' is a city of 1.5 million people which usually bustles with the activity of hawkers proclaiming "hii katalogi kabisa garantii oringino'' (from the latest catalogue, guaranteed original) which everyone knows to mean the opposite. Yesterday, as one man said outside the stadium, "even the pickpockets are paying tribute to Baba''.

Former president Nyerere, who died aged 77, had his faults. His ujamaa, Maoist farms, introduced after a peaceful transition to independence from Britain in 1961, ran the economy into the ground. In 1979, Tanzania had more political prisoners than South Africa. But in the crowd yesterday mourners insisted that his legacy was of good.

Generally, they did not believe the prophets of doom who have predicted that, in the absence of former president Nyerere as an éminence grise , President Mkapa's ruling party could split ahead of next years elections and that Muslim-dominated Zanzibar - the island off Dar es Salaam which was brought into the fold in 1964 - might secede.

Winnie Naali, a market trader in her forties, who was among hundreds wearing black and wrapped in a kanga (cloth) featuring Nyerere's image said: "He was not very clever at economics and this was not good for the wealth of this country, but when he realised this, he said sorry and resigned. He wanted Tanzania to be one big village, a family for us all, and for all of us to take part.''

After the state funeral - at which several European royal families will be represented, as well as all of Tanzania's neighbours and high-ranking officials from allies such as China and the Nordic countries - former president Nyerere's death will return to being a family affair.

His body will be taken to his village, Butiama, by Lake Victoria, for burial alongside the remains of his father. Far from the nearest airstrip and prying camera crews, Mama Maria and Mama Graça will reclaim the family occasion.

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