GETRUDE MONGELLA: Tanzanian heroine who stole the show at the 1995 Beijing women’s conference

THE UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, marked a watershed in women empowerment and promotion of equal rights among men and women.

And, the driving force behind the Conference was none other than Tanzania’s Getrude Mongella (pictured), who was the Secretary General of the gathering. Though she has played very crucial roles and held various high ranking positions within and outside the country, one of the things that she is proud of until today and the world is going to remember her for, is when she took a leading role at the Beijing Conference to advocate women’s rights.

“No matter how small or big, every opportunity I got, I used it to advocate women’s issues and today, people are aware of the existence of both men and women,” said Mama Mongella wearing a smile on her face. In her 70s, she is still well composed, humble and knows what to say even without one posing a question. Mama Mongella recalls the liberation movement for Southern African countries that were helped by Tanzania in the fight against colonialism. Freedom fighters from countries like Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe African National Union – ZANU and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union - ZAPU); Namibia (South West Africa People’s Organisation - SWAPO); South Africa (African National Congress - ANC, and the Pan African Congress - PAC); Mozambique (Mozambique Liberation Front - FRELIMO); and Angola (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola - MPLA), were hosted in the country and offered training camps and safe havens during the liberation struggle in their respective countries.

Since that time, strong ties have continued to exist and transformed the region into a big family that has stayed together during good and bad times, and is identified as the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In the course of time, countries that managed to acquire their freedom collaborated with Tanzania to support those which were still struggling.

“For me, SADC is a clear manifestation that once as Africans we decide to come together and tackle issues troubling our nations, we are surely going to succeed,” she said. To some of us who were present when all these things were happening, we can testify up to this moment that SADC is still growing strong and this is quite pleasing.

And, now that the SADC Summit is being held in the country, it is more appealing to us because it is as if family members are visiting, therefore, it requires some sort of preparations, she added. Mama Mongella cited an example of a mother at home when relatives are visiting, she would usually go through the trouble to slaughter a wellnourished chicken for the visitors.

“I remember when the liberation movements were starting. I was in secondary school and among subjects that were being taught was civics. During class, we learned about racism in Africa and how slavery was operated in East Africa,” she recalled. She recounted how the topics touched their hearts to such an extent that for them, it was as if a spear had hit them directly onto the chest. “It was hurting to see our colleagues in southern Africa being discriminated against, tortured and humiliated just because of the colour of their skin. We realized that as a country we bore great responsibility for the liberation of our fellows,” she said.

As she was undertaking her studies at university, she became a member of the Tanganyika African National Union Tanzanian heroine who stole the show at the 1995 Beijing women’s conference Other heroines include the late Bibi Titi Mohamed, who played a very crucial role in the liberation movements, Mama Mwanaidi Hassan Makame, who was in the forefront during the Zanzibar Revolution. The rest are figures such as Mama Maria Nyerere and Mama Fatuma Karume who supported their husbands throughout the entire process. “They used to tell us that it does not require you to be rich to assist fellow Africans…if you are blessed with a cup, a piece of kanga, a sheet or just about anything which will be of use, you can give it away.

“All this was done based on their push…imagine, these women did not even have university degrees, but they had profound thinking abilities,” she said.

Again, most people are not aware that by then, women in Africa had long established their association before that of their governments which was identified as Pan-African Women Organization (PAWO).

The Organization of African Union (OAU) came later in 1963, whereas PAWO was established in 1960 in Tanzania and in the course of time its headquarters were moved to Angola. At the time when the liberation movements were going on, PAWO managed to bring many women together with the same agenda in southern Africa.

The Tanzanian icon also recounts of the great contribution played by women in southern Africa citing the likes of the late Mama Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, who did a great job to create awareness among women in the region on the importance of raising their voices to free the late former South African President, Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison. She played a pivotal role in South Africa in the fight against white supremacy without any hesitation and women in the region listened to her and offered their support. And, another iron lady was the late Mama Mary Fulano from Zambia, she was a very strong woman who managed to unite women in her country, and played a leading role in the country’s freedom struggle. Among others include the former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, Graca Machel who by then was a very young lady, the President of SADC Parliamentary Forum, Speaker Veronica Nataniel Macamo (Mozambique) she is a good freedom fighter who grew up in Nachingwea District in Lindi Region.

“I know these women by heart, from the strong partnerships we had; we have shared a lot in various areas, but particularly at the United Nations… when we went to Beijing, we still stood together and upon our return, member states from the SADC region issued an official statement to back up the Beijing movement. “Another statement was also presented on strengthening recognition of women and fighting any form of discrimination… by then, we did not want to be drawn back; our countries were free and so should the women,” observed Mama Mongella.

JULIUS Kambarage Nyerere has a special place in the hearts and minds of the people of Africa, and especially southern Africa. He was the founding President of Tanganyika and later the United Republic of Tanzania, after the union with Zanzibar. He was a founding father of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), initially called the Southern African Development Coordination Conference, and he hosted its conception meeting in Arusha in 1979, with the launch held later in Lusaka, Zambia, in 1980.

Mwalimu Nyerere was also a Founding Father of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), and the Peace and Security Building at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bears his name. Mwalimu means Teacher in KiSwahili, and he taught the people of his country and the continent many things, with emphasis on Freedom and Unity (Uhuru na Umoja), which is the motto of his country.

He hosted the OAU Liberation Committee in the safety of Tanzania to support the remaining decolonisation of the continent, notably supporting those countries that had to take up weapons of liberation in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

He was the first Chairperson of the Front Line States who supported resistance to colonialism on the continent and the end of apartheid in South Africa. When he died 20 years ago, on 14 October 1999, it was said at his funeral that -- “He carried the torch that liberated Africa”.

Mwalimu Nyerere chaired the Front Line States from inception in 1974 until he retired from office in 1985, a period which facilitated the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, eventually leading to the independence of Namibia in 1990 and majority elections in South Africa in 1994. He facilitated the establishment of the regional community that became SADC, one of the economic building blocks of the AU. He initiated the early days of China-Africa relations with Premier Zhou Enlai in the 1960s when both China and Tanzania were still fresh from liberation themselves.

The two leaders formed a bond that saw them visit each other on several occasions 1965-1968, sharing a vision of what China and Africa could become, in addressing their economic development after political independence.

They laid the plans for the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA), the freedom railway that liberated Zambia from dependence on apartheid South Africa and Southern Rhodesia for its trade routes, to send its valuable copper to markets, through the port of Dar es Salaam. Mwalimu described the TAZARA as a “weapon of freedom”.

Born in Butiama near Lake Victoria on 13 April 1922, Nyerere’s 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 OAU. 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. 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. 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, Zimbabwe. Source - sardc.net Remembering Nyerere’s contribution to SADC regional integration (TANU) Youth League; when school closed their male counterparts would be deployed to assist in the liberation struggle in the southern African countries including Namibia, Mozambique and others. Upon their return, she remembers how they would share their experiences, noting that such a move was very appealing to the history of the region, for it demonstrates how the youth from the previous days were contended to the spirit of Pan-Africanism to the extent of sacrificing their lives for others.

According to her, unity among all black people was a motivation of seeing all Africans as one and most importantly it acted as a catalyst.

This is why when members from the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party are taking an oath of allegiance usually they say, “All Africans are family,” the same reason people in countries like Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe call each other comrade. When she became an activist within the women’s wing of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), known as UWT, there were elderly women who had preceded them and played a critical role in the liberation movement of southern Africa. “I will be more than surprised if the role of women is not among issues which will be tabled during the discussions,” she said.

She recalls some great names, women who played profoundly in the liberation movement of the likes of Mama Sophia Kawawa, who stood in the forefront encouraging Tanzanians to look at the liberation movement as everyone’s responsibility.


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