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Remembering Julius Nyerere – spearhead of liberation in southern Africa

Remembering Julius Nyerere – spearhead of liberation in southern Africa

SARDC, Harare – 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 based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Southern African News Features are produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre which has monitored regional developments since 1985. Website and Virtual Library for Southern Africa at


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