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Monday, December 2, 2013

Obituary for Mvungi

When we, the Legal Aid Committee of the University of Dar es Salaam, did the Mama Wejja election petition in 1981/82, Sengondo Mvungi was a reporter with Uhuru/Mzalendo. He covered the Wejja case brilliantly, from an angle which is unusual with our media these days, or even then, – the angle of the working people. Mama Wejja was no big shot. She was a typist with Radio Tanzania earning Shs.500/= per month.  But she had dared to petition against big potatoes, including district party bosses. 

Mvungi later became my student. He joined with dedication the legal aid work that we were doing. A number of young people/students then did voluntary legal aid for the working people - workers, single-mothers, oppressed women, landless, tenants and peasants whose lands were being threatened to be taken over by parastatals. We travelled as far as Kigoma on legal aid camps. No one expected any rewards. It was not a career-building stunt. Today’s young generation have to draw lessons and inspiration from the commitment of young intellectuals then.

True, like his many colleagues then, he took a different path later in his life. But unlike some of his colleagues, who joined the Establishment and sometimes even worked against the interests of working people, by and large, Mvungi retained a soft spot for the poor in his life style and work.

I last met Mvungi when I went to address the Constitutional Review Commission. I was invited at the very beginning to exchange views with the Commission. As I was approaching my seat, having just finished my presentation, Sengondo spontaneously stood up and gave me a big hug. I was moved. That proved to be the last hug.

I hug you farewell, comrade, as you join our anscestors.

Issa Shivji
First (former) Mwalimu Nyerere University Professor of Pan-African Studies,
University of Dar es Salaam

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