Fatma Karume’s untold story in independence struggles

SAVE for her spousal link to Zanzibar founding President Abeid Amani Karume, Mama Fatma Karume is rarely mentioned in the struggles for independence.

But, if the truth be told, she played a central role in the fight against the colonial rule, leading to the present free Zanzibar. Mrs Karume joined the Zanzibar women group in the struggles as its clerk and successfully campaigned for women’s right to vote.

Until the 1957 elections, the colonial government was restricting women from voting. But, after the 1957 polls, Zanzibar received a delegate from Lancaster House in London. “We used the opportunity to strongly argue our case for women voters,” she recalls.

The late Abdallah Mzee whom Mama Fatma says was a fluent English speaker served as translator in the meeting of women and the Lancaster delegate.

“We articulately argued our case and when it was presented to London, women were allowed to vote,” the 93-year-old granny tells the Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Limited’s (TSN) editorial team, which she had hosted for an interview at her Maisara home in Unguja.

But, despite the green light to vote, the colonial government introduced harsh conditions, which made it almost impossible for women to vote. Women were required to have reading and writing ability; as well as owning at least 3/- to qualify as voters.

“Many people, not just women, were illiterate. And, the 3/- requirement was a too huge amount of money for any woman to own – remember that was my husband’s monthly salary,” she says.

But the women worked out a plan, which succeeded. Through a support of sewing machines and rolls of cloth they had received from friendly countries, including China, the women faked entrepreneurial groups to justify ownership of the 3/-.

“There were also other projects of cookery,” says Mama Fatma, “…ultimately, many women were registered as qualified voters though they never owned the 3/- as required.”

“We (women) participated in the struggles not by merely taking care of our husbands but in active politics,” boasts Mama Karume.

The former First Lady whose real name is Fatma Gullam Hussein Jamal is proud of her active role in the January 12, 1964 revolutions, saying: “I personally participated in the sacred revolutions of Zanzibar.”

And, despite her wide travels, Mama Karume never misses to celebrate the heroic day in the islands. “I always make sure I’m in Zanzibar to celebrate the revolution day; it’s one of my emotional memories,” she says.

She believes in the power of women to make things happen or fail. “Women are very powerful; they have the capacity to build or demolish,” says Mama Karume with reference to President Samia Suluhu Hassan whom she admires as capable and brilliant leader.

Mama Karume says President Samia has demonstrated a high level of will power to lead Tanzania to social and economic development, imploring Tanzanians to support her. “Tanzania is lucky to have the president of Samia calibre…let’s support her, she will take us to another level.”

She particularly urges women to use the opportunity to develop economically. “Majority women remain poor and weak; they live in squalor …but this is their time to make changes,” she says.

The 93-year granny was born at Bumbwini suburb in North Unguja region’s North B District to the Mayor of Unguja Urban and married to former President Karume at the age of 15.

Marriage between Karume and Fatma wasn’t easy due to high level of racism, which made it almost a taboo for an Indian girl to marry a black African man. Fortunately, Fatma’s father approved the marriage without any problem.

The Karumes were blessed with their first daughter–Asha–who unfortunately died in 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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