Suddenly, too, a young lady of only 32 years became a national household name and made all roads to lead to her Ifakara hometown, itself a sleepy corner of the country although it has traditionally produced quite a number of prominent persons like the late businessman and legislator, Abbas Gulamali, businessman and diplomat, Ami Mpungwe, retired Judge and legislator, Edward Mwesiumo – an authority in administrative law -- and current Bank of Tanzania (BoT) Governor Prof Benno Ndulu.
Others are Special Seats legislator, Dr Gertrude Lwakatare who is also the Principal Pastor of Mikocheni B Assemblies of God Church, a fiery preacher and owner of the St Mary’s chain of primary and secondary schools; and the immediate former MP for the constituency Mr Castory Ligallama, who is currently the Chairman of the Sugar Board of Tanzania. Thus, questions were naturally asked: what was the secret behind the rather abrupt fame of a young lady, who it appeared had in death turned into a kind of cake that everybody wanted to have a piece of!
A colleague meanwhile, expressed her indignation when it transpired in one of the eulogies that the late Mtema was actually the one who had suggested Chadema should seek audience with President Jakaya Kikwete to iron out differences of viewpoints over modalities for writing the new constitution. “Do you see men and their chauvinism? Such a brilliant peace-forging idea came from a woman and they did not include her in the delegation that went to State House or, for that matter, any other woman from the opposition party!”
There can be no doubt that the kind of sudden and tragic death that Mtema suffered can only fail to touch the most tender part of an extremely heartless person. The young lady, her mother and other passengers in the car were happily looking to a bright Saturday filled with fun and reveling atmosphere at her Vigwaza farm when the cruel arm of death suddenly struck, hardly 10km from their destination. It was a scenario that the political and economic heavyweights could readily identify with and reminiscence that in a way it could have been anyone of them.
In human terms, reaction to the ‘surprise’ news about Mtema’s distressing death was a kind of collective surrender to the hopelessness of life and the eventual shock to which all human beings are fated but remain serenaded only because we all know neither the day nor the hour. Regia too was fairly young when destiny plucked her from the midst of society on that fateful January 14, 2012 and was finally laid to rest four days later at her Ifakara home in a burial that was led by President Jakaya Kikwete and attended by more than 100 Members of Parliament, roughly a quarter of the august House.
The young legislator, who was disabled herself, also had plans to work for the welfare of the disadvantaged in society including orphans and people with physical disabilities, some of whom she had already taken in her house at Makabe area in Dar es Salaam. For those who knew her well readily agreed, too, that she was a very keen person in whatever she set out to do. Regia also never considered her physical disability as a hindrance to advancement in society.
She had contested the Ifakara constituency in the 2010 general election and won over 45 percent of the vote – an impressive showing for a young woman who had entered competitive politics for the first time. Her performance emboldened Mr Mbowe to claim at the burial that Ifakara was a Chadema constituency much as it is currently represented in parliament by Mr Abdul Mteketa (CCM), apparently driving the point home that their rivalry continues.
In many ways, Regia’s death also totally eclipsed that of former Deputy Minister for Finance and MP for Arumeru Mr Jeremiah Sumari who died on January 19, 2012, a day after Regia was buried. It was a tough week for the nation and for parliament in particular to lose two members in a row. However, the two deaths showed that Tanzania had matured as a nation and multiparty democracy. The Parliamentary Steering Committee chaired by Speaker Anne Makinda that deliberated on the funeral arrangements for Regia naturally had more CCM members given the overwhelming House majority of the ruling party but they could be clearly seen as people discussing a national matter as opposed to sectarian interests.
Similarly, Mr Mbowe sat separated from President Jakaya Kikwete only by Chief Justice Othman Chande at the funeral service for Mr Sumari at the Karimjee Hall in Dar es Salaam. It was a powerful non-verbal language that when it comes to national issues, the country acts and responds as one, a quality that is pitifully absent in many other African countries. All political parties with representation in parliament went to bury Regia, which led Pastor Imelder Sanga of the Seventh Day International Ministries, a breakaway group from the mainstream Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) to observe that it was a very good turning point from the days when brothers boycotted attending the burial ceremony of their brother or sister simply because they had happened to belong to a different religious or political persuasion.
“We have come a long way on the sometimes twisted path to national maturity and it is kind of ironic that it is the politicians who are now showing the people what true love for thy neighbour or brother means. This should be happening more between religions and among the different denominations of the same religion but it is sad that sometimes that is not the case” she said. Regia was certainly no angel. She has no doubt gone down her grave with a litany of her human frailties and perfections but we leave that as secret only between her soul and her Creator.
One thing, however, is now certain: political parties will certainly continue to make political capital out of the deaths of their peers irrespective of ideological persuasion. The death of one person, as the Kiswahili adage says, is gain to another and the people should expect to see more jostling for power at funerals and burial services even as others shed streams of tears. Lying in state at the Karimjee Hall, Tanzania’s Independence Chamber of Parliament, was a practice reserved for a select number of national leaders but the country saw last week two MPs lie in state there in succession.
Indeed, in death as in life, Regia may have continued her reputation as a very proactive MP, whose views were often sought after well in advance by many cabinet ministers including, we were told, by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, who is no doubt among the many people who will miss her dearly. The late Mtema went to primary school between 1986 and 1995 and attended the Forodhani Secondary School in Dar es Salaam in 1996.
From there, she went on to complete her Form Six education at Machame Girls Secondary School in Kilimanjaro in 2002. From Machame Regia joined the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in food science and nutrition in 2006. She was employed in several places before she decided to join the opposition Chadema and devote her life to fulltime politics. She contested the Ifakara Parliamentary seat in the 2010 general election where she narrowly lost to CCM candidate, Abdul Mteketa.
Mr Mteketa was to eulogise her at the burial but changed his mind after murmurs that he would be booed by mourners as they claimed they had not seen him again in the constituency since they gave him their votes more than a year ago. Such was the meteoric rise to fame and power of a girl who broke her right leg in childhood playing that went on to be amputated. Her life will no doubt inspire many especially those of her gender, which is perpetually in need of role models. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.