Julius Nyerere: Africa’s unsung hero


President Robert Mugabe is a colossus, the last of Africa’s revolutionary liberators, but he has his giants, too. One of them is Tanzania’s founding leader Julius Mwalimu Nyerere, who provided support and bases for liberation movements in Southern Africa as they waged war on settler regimes.

Mwalimu, or teacher as Nyerere was called, is an unsung hero of the liberation of the continent. And President Mugabe, a beneficiary of Nyerere’s support, used the occasion of his 90th birthday to decry the lack of recognition of Nyerere and vowed to honour “the great teacher”.

He complained at a party held for his birthday: “There is none, none, none, none, none at all who have recognised what Nyerere did. Just look at the nature of the mission he undertook. He never changed at all and we were all there.”

President Mugabe will change all this and he has the gravitas, too, as African Union Deputy Chair, and the next Chair of the AU.

President Mugabe said, “I want to say, when all honour has been showered on heroes in Africa, the man who has been humiliated is Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. There we are, liberation movements, there we were – depending on the resources in Tanzania. But there has been nothing said about this man and his country at the OAU. Nkrumah, yes, he had that support … But Tanzania, to say Nyerere was like any other.”

He said Africa should be reminded of the responsibility that it thrust on this man, a burden to train all liberation movements. It was a burden that was not only political, but, at the end of the day, there is no one to say Tanzania deserves to be mentioned.

He said: “At the end of the day, there is no one to say Tanzania deserved to be even mentioned, just mere mentioning as having accomplished that mission, that mission to have us as friends, that mission to make us train our liberation movements in Africa.

“We all went in various ways, in various dimensions, to Tanzania to liberate our countries and we have not gone back to Tanzania. Well, I am going to be chair of the AU and I am going to tackle this issue.”

Zimbabwe has a street named after Nyerere in the capital Harare. Zimbabwe has maintained cordial relations with Tanzania, which is also a member of SADC.




Father of Southern




President Mugabe’s superlative praise of Nyerere is not without peer or consolidation.

The perceptive journal SARDC.net describes Nyerere as “the father of southern African liberation, and one of the founding fathers of the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) which later became the Southern African Development Community (SADC).”

He was, in his home country, “Baba wa taifa, father of the nation” as he oversaw the attainment of Independence of Tanganyika on December 9, 1961, and for its unity with Zanzibar on April 26, 1964, to create the United Republic of Tanzania.

Says sardc.net “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).”

“Julius Kambarage 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 which were independent in 1963 established the Organisation of African Unity (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,” says the journal.

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 Mwalimu Nyerere, and this was a forerunner of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security adds the journal.

Professor Issa Shivji has said of Mwalimu’s role: “The whole of 60’s all over Africa it was a nationalist period, the liberation movements, because some countries had not yet obtained their independence, Southern African countries. And one of the important positions of the OAU which Mwalimu pushed was the liberation of the whole of Africa, the end of colonialism.”



Contributing to 



Mwalimu made a conscious decision to fight colonialism.

In his 1999 interview with Ikaweba Bunting for the New Internationalist Magazine he says the anti-colonial liberation movement contributed to humanity in two ways.

“The first is simply that the suffering of a whole chunk of human beings through the actions of others was halted. The arrogance of one group of people in lording it over the human race and exploiting the poorer peoples was challenged and discredited – and that was a positive contribution made by the liberation struggle to all humanity.

“Second, the liberation movement was very moral. It was not simply liberation in a vacuum. Gandhi argued a moral case and so did I. Liberation freed white people also. Take South Africa: there, the anti-apartheid victory freed whites as well as black people.”

He says the idea of liberation for him was not an “experience like Paul on the road to Damascus.”

“For me it was a process – something that grew inside of me.” He was a humanist. “What many of us went through was simply a desire to be accepted by the white man. At first this is what it was – a kind of inert dissatisfaction that we were not accepted as equals.”

He was for the unity of Africa.

He once said, “Without unity, there is no future for Africa.”

Mwalimu was a universal champion of the poor.

He once said: “I’ve claimed that the third world does exist and has a meaning which can be used for the betterment of the masses of poor people in the world.”

Julius Nyerere is an African hero and President Mugabe recognizes this.

February 2014
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