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Sunday, April 17, 2011

CITING NYERERE: COMMUNISTS, CATHOLICS AND CHECHE COMRADES IN CONTEXT

What started as a request for previous issues of Cheche Magazine in our Wanazuoni Network has opened a 'memory box' - in a response to an email from its then editor, Karim Hirji, accessible at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Wanazuoni/message/9155, one member of Wanazuoni posted this quote:

"Tunafahamu vizuri zaidi maana ya taratibu ya kijamii kuliko maaskofu; tunajua maana madhubuti ya kuzuia ukomunisti. Na naamini, ukomunisti kamwe hautakuja Tanzania ikiwa juhudi zetu zitafanikiwa. Hivi karibuni niliingilia kati kuzuia kikundi cha wanafunzi waliotaka kuanzisha "Cheche", kama ilivyokuwa kule Urusi" - Fr. Robert Rweyemamu, "Report of Conversation with President Nyerere" August 3, 1970. Archdiocese Archives, Tabora.

Interestingly, the co-editor of Africa's Liberation: The Legacy of Nyerere has provided this background:

THE "CHECHE"AFFAIR


Thanks for this quote from Julius Kambarage Nyerere (JKN) made in 1970 to Father Robert Rweyemamu regarding Mwalimu's problem with "Cheche" (the title of the then student magazine at the University of Dar es Salaam-UDSM ).The word is the Kiswahili translation of "the Spark" which was the title of a political magazine published in the then Soviet Union at that time..."kama ilivyokuwa kule Urusi"...as JKN says. The background to this affair was as follows:

1. In 1970, Tanzania (TZ) under JKN was under fire from all sorts of places for allegedely becoming communist. The Arusha Declaration,the close ties with China, the Soviet Union, Cuba, the support for the liberation movements, some of which were avowedly Marxist(MPLA, FRELIMO),the nationalisation of the banks, etc etc , all provided ready excuse - for those who wanted them - to declare that TZ was going 'commie'. One of the happiest in this camp was of course the then Kaburu South Africa which used its anti-communist credentials to gain support from the West in this Cold War period...support which the NATO powers were only too willing to give.

2. This type of hostility, coming as it did from the usual suspects, did not surprise JKN who dealt with it by never losing the initiative and never losing sight of his objectives. The one unexpected source of hostility turned out to be the Roman Catholic(RC) hierarchy inside TZ...and this is why the archival material from the Tabora Archdiocese is so important. The RC churches, all over the country, started distributing unsigned tracts, written in local languages, claiming that TZ was going communist; these tracts were often distributed to churchgoers after the services.

3. The RC hierarchy was clearly obeying instructions from the Vatican for reasons which need explaining here. Vatican was not pro-communism although Pople Paul VI, who died in 1978, tried to establish dialogues with various communist countries. Pope John Paul II,from Poland, who followed afterwards in the wake of the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I in the same year, was a fervent Anti-communist and Euro-centric. His entire world view was coloured by the history of his own country and its subjugation by Russia. To him, anyone to the left of the Holy Roman Emperor was a commie or a Marxist- Leninist and hence dangerous. As my friend Father Bernard Joinet, the RC ex-Chaplain of the then Muhimbili Medical School used to say, "this Pope is Stalinist in his intransigence"(Those nuns and priests who suffered this attitude in Latin America will tell you what they went through for daring to practice Liberation Theology among the poor. It is no exaggeration to say that this Pope put back the cause of Latin American liberation by several decades).

4. To return to TZ and to JKN who was a devout Roman Catholic, in belief and in practice. He accepted in toto the centrality of Christ's gospel AND the claimed institutional supremacy of the Pope as Christ's Representative on earth. But he also and equally devotedly believed that religious belief was a private matter which had nothing to do with politics AND that politics had nothing to do with one's religious belief. And the political tracts coming out at RC churches disturbed him greatly. So he decided to talk to the RC system.

5. In mid-1970, he called a meeting in Arusha of all religious leaders of all faiths in TZ: RC, Protestant of all kinds, Muslim of all sects, Hindu, Buddhists etc. and told them, in Kiswahili, a few things they should not forget. That TZ was a secular state, that no religion had a special place, neither in TANU nor in Government and that the Arusha Declaration was not dogma but policy. To the RC leadership, however, he had a special message: that the RC priests, like the Protestant and Muslim leaders, should live among the people they purported to serve and not in their ivory towers of separate comfort as they tended to do. TZ was a country of peasants and its religious leaders would be wrong to think they were superior to the majority just because they were in the service of God.

6. And he finally gave them this warning:The Arusha Declaration has only three categories of citizens who have the right to live on the sweat of others: the young, the old and the infirm and there is no intention of adding a fourth category...for priests.

7. So this was the background and the climate in which the students at the Hill decided for reasons best known to themselves to give their local magazine the same name as the Marxist publication in Moscow. They were asked to change it and they refused...hence the altercation with the President...which I believe had nothing to do with the "radical content" which nobody took to be the gospel truth by the way,beyond the Hill... but with juvenile intellectual arrogance and serious lack of knowledge about what was going on in the country.

Finally, for those interested, I strongly recommend a reading of that Arusha speech which I hope is in the Tabora archives and should be with the JKN papers at the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation. Needless to say, the Arusha meeting diffused the situation and the RC and the Vatican hierarchy got the message. I have tried to give the wider picture as I saw it unfold.

3 comments:

Chambi Chachage April 19, 2011 at 4:15 AM  

Karim Hirji's Preliminary Response:

In her email on the subject of Cheche and communists, Annar Cassam
makes many strong assertions readrding Cheche and Cheche comrades.
In my view, she has many facts completely wrong and her asssertions
are not only historically dubious but politically inconsistent as well.

I suggest that people who are interested in a historically more accurate
version should first read the book Cheche: Reminiscences of a Radical
Magazine. This book gives a detailed historically researched first hand
account of the life and times of Cheche. It is better to base one's judgement
of empricial evidence rather than pure memory or partial and one-sided
information.

I am going to give a detailed response to Cassam later on; but for now let
me point out one completely wrong assetion given by her: that there was a
magazine being published in the Soviet Union with a Rrussian name equivalent
to that of The Spark or Cheche. Completely false - the magazine in question was
the one published by Lenin and others (Russian exiles in Europe fighting the
feudal Tsarist dictatorship in Russia) at the turn of the 20th century (around 1905).

That was but one inspiration behind the name Cheche. Another was the fact that
Kwame Nkrumah also had an ideological magazine (a Pan-Africanist magazine
devoted to the study and practice of socialism) that was also called The Spark.

Second, let me point out that it was not Cheche that was banned as such. What
was banned was an independent Pan-Africanist and socialist organization whose
members included students from Tanzania and other parts of Africa called the
University Students African Revolutionary Front, and since Cheche was it organ,
it was forced to close its doors as well. Why ban this group which was militant
but had never engaged in any illegal activity and which -- unlike many reactionary
students as well as church organizations on the campus which opposed socialism
in any form -- firmly supported socialism and self-reliance?

Anyway, it is a long story -- read the book Cheche to judge for yourself and of course
do your own research for a more valid account of what happened and why.

I will continue to participate in this debate and will be pleased to respond to queries
and further comments.

Chambi Chachage April 19, 2011 at 4:17 AM  

Annar Cassam Clarifying Rejoinder:

1. I am not giving the history of the Cheche episode as experienced by the students.
My purpose was to provide the background and context, as I saw it, to JKN's quote to
Fr.Rweyemamu on the subject of communism, with special reference to the sentence beginning "Hivi karibuni niliingilia.." where JKN talks of Cheche and the Russian connection.
I readily admit that I am not, like some of our distinguished scholars, an expert on the history
of the exact dates of Leninist publications coming out of Russia. My reference was to amplify the connection made in that quote between Cheche (Spark)and "Urusi"...a connection which Hirji himself makes by saying,
"the magazine in question was the one published by Lenin and others....."

2.Secondly, I did not say or claim that the magazine was banned,I said there was an altercation as to the title. As to Hirji's question "why ban this group which was militant etc etc "..this is not relevant to my
piece...I do not mention any group and I did not ban anything!

Chambi Chachage April 19, 2011 at 4:26 AM  

From George at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Wanazuoni/message/9224:

I managed to find reference copies of the Cheche magazine edition 2,3
& 4 at the UDSM library. It's amazing what the then students at UDSM managed to achieve, it should inspire the current generation of
Tanzanian university students.

I bought and read the whole book about Cheche written by Prof. Hirji
and colleagues. It surely is a gripping story of what ensued, their motives, and a deep critique of the state of Tanzania during that era, and perspectives for the way forward. I suggest all to get a copy. I got mine last week during the Nyerere Festival, but I guess they are still on sale at the shop - Tanzania Publishing House (Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers) at Samora Avenue.

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