DAILY NEWS’ BENCH WITH FORMER LEADERS: Mama Karume’s encyclopaedic knowledge on history of Tanzania

  • Bitter with the country’s history inept young generation

PHYSICAL fitness, eloquent speaking and sharp memory all combined defy her old age of almost a century.

Yes, Mama Fatma Karume as fondly referred to by her admirers, is approaching a century and in just three months’ time, precisely on February 2, 2024, she will be celebrating her 93rd birthday.

Yet, the wife of Zanzibar’s founding President Abeid Amani Karume remains a human encyclopaedia on the history of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, especially the independence movements. She still remembers the details of the meetings, which cost her husband and other revolutionists sleepless nights.

“We (wives of revolutionists) went through hell with our husbands; remember we had no reliable communications as today and imagine spending the whole night in the bedroom alone with no clue of the whereabouts of your husband,” recalls Mama Karume, a daughter to an Indian father and half-cast mother of Arab and African.

She is however bitter with the country’s history inept young generation, accusing parents of failure to teach their children the country’s history and background. “Our children know nothing about the country’s history; no wonder you hear people saying the colonial era was better than now,” she says, describing the perception as highly dangerous to the future generation.

“They say that because they never experienced the consequences of colonialism,” she says, recalling especially how pure Africans were mistreated in their own land.

The 93-year granny who was born at Bumbwini suburb in North Unguja region’s North B District to the Mayor of Unguja Urban remains physically fit, thanking the Almighty God for the previlege.”…It’s the grace of God, I cannot claim any credit to that,” she says in reply to what is the secret behind her physical fitness at that age.

Zanzibar’s pioneering First Lady hardly attended school as she says: “I didn’t get that opportunity.”

Although Mama Karume claims to have never seen the inside of a classroom, her speech aptness, memory and argumentation capability prove wrong her illiteracy claims.

“Of course, I have been learning at home; I’m still in the learning process even today,” she finally admits her literacy.

The former First Lady whose real name is Fatma Gullam Hussein Jamal enjoyed the co-parenting of her father and uncles and just at the age of 15, in 1944, she got married to the late Karume and assumed the new name. “I know you know, Karume is not my father; but we used that advantage of their prominent names–Maria Nyerere, Sophia Kawawa…”

She still vividly remembers how she met her husband, a former sailor who had travelled the world before he settled to take care of his ailing mother. Speaking to the Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Limited’s (TSN) editorial team, which she had hosted for an interview at her Maisara home in Unguja, Mama Karume thanked her uncle, her aunt’s husband, for her marriage with Karume.

From his sailing trips, the late Karume settled in Unguja and opened a dancing club–the African Dance Club–at Michenzani area. And, during the time the young Fatma had relocated from rural North B District to stay with her aunt –her mother’s sister–in town.

It happened that Fatma’s uncle was working with Mzee Karume in the club. “I remember one day, Mzee Karume visited our home and on seeing me he inquired more from my uncle. My uncle just told him I was his daughter,” recalls Mama Karume.

Soon, Mama Karume remembers, the uncle arranged to take Fatma and other family members for an outing to the dancing club. “At the club I was introduced to Karume …I think now he believes I was my uncle’s daughter,” she says laughingly. And, the rest is history.

Marriage between Karume and Fatma wasn’t easy, anyway. “You know that was the period when racism was at peak; it wasn’t easy for a white (Indian) girl to marry a black husband…but, thanks, my father had no problem, he easily approved our marriage,” Mama Fatma says, appreciating the understanding of her late father who had relocated to Canada.

The Karumes were blessed with their first daughter–Asha–who unfortunately died on her second day after birth. They later got the sixth Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume and Ambassador Ali Abeid Karume in 1948 and 1950, respectively.

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