Perched near the majestic Urugulu Mountain Forest just east of Tanzania are lively villages spanning the lush green scenery of Morogoro – the place where freedom fighters took refuge while waging a war against a repressive system back home in South Africa.
I was privileged to form part of the visit led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to Morogoro on the sidelines of his state visit which followed the 39th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government two weeks ago in Tanzania. It was a privilege because Morogoro occupies a very special place in the hearts and minds of young activists in the African National Congress (ANC).
The pilgrimage was timely, precisely because the current state of our politics is such that we speak unity and practice its antithesis, and serious political discourse has made way for popular slogans. Visiting Morogoro was like entering an atmosphere of another time when the ANC had a unity of purpose and its cadres were driven by the courage of their convictions.
In Morogoro, we began the journey, which will forever be cemented in my heart, with a tour of the Soikone University of Agriculture’s Solomon Mahlangu Campus formerly known as the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College – Somafco. The college, situated in Mazimbu, was established by the exiled ANC in 1978 and it provided educational and vocational skills to young South Africans who had fled South Africa after the 1976 Soweto uprising.
As we drove through Mazimbu Campus, past the OR Tambo Primary School, my mind couldn’t help but wonder if indeed the children there knew about this revolutionary and Oliver Tambo, a great Son of Africa who, while he lived, bestrode the world like a colossus. What became evident was that while we can selfishly claim our leaders as our own, in reality they were and remain global leaders.
Our visit started with the signing of the visitors’ book by the President and in that room, a flag of the ANC Women’s League stood out like a mural on the wall, and together with other paraphernalia of the governing-ANC and its leagues is kept treasured as part of the rich heritage.
Together with the leaders of our sister liberation movement Chama Cha Mapinduzi, we then moved towards a large group of locals who were waiting eagerly for a public meeting to engage with the leaders. Among them were leaders of the university, students, and members of the surrounding communities. I was immediately reminded that then ANC President OR Tambo stood in the same place 35 years ago to address the community of learners and educators.
On that occasion he said:
“The ANC is a force. And why are we a force? Because of you ….We are a force because everywhere we are honest, we are a force because we are fighting the biggest criminals, a regime guilty of crime against humanity, a powerful regime which has failed to destroy us because we are a force. But I say we are a force because of you, because of Mazimbu, because of Somafco, because of what you represent here, because of the community that you have setup here, a community that we can display to the world.”
These words echoed in my head as if I were there during that address while I sat on the podium gazing at the community of Mazimbu who had come in their numbers to listen to President Ramaphosa. The President expressed gratitude to the community and people of Tanzania for their support during the difficult period of repression in South Africa.
It is with this shared past in mind that, when Julius Mwalimu Nyerere addressed the South African Parliament in 1997, he made the following remarks among other things:
“With the end of apartheid and South Africa having joined SADC, this area of Africa is a very solid area. It is an extremely solid area. It is strong, it has serious leaders and these leaders know one another. I know that because where some of them have come from, they have a habit of working together… so let them work together.”
Indeed, Mwalimu that knew the leaders of the ANC and Chama Cha Mapinduzi and other liberation movements had a habit of working together and that should continue to be the guide for the leadership in the SADC region and the continent.
We proceeded to the girls’ dormitories, whose exterior was a mural of struggle heroine Mama Lilian Ngoyi, before a tour through a carpentry factory where young people are taught how to make furniture. With time running out, on our way out we walked past a structure draped with graffiti of the first logo of the ANC Youth League. The place truly felt like a home away from home.
As expected, the visit to the cemetery and seeing all the graves of the freedom fighters who lost their lives and were buried in Morogoro was quite an overwhelming emotional journey. Buried therein are the mortal remains of freedom fighters who came from diverse backgrounds and ordinarily they never would have met, but their paths crossed because they had one thing in common – they hated injustice.
Then it dawned on me that they never got to see the freedom that they bitterly fought for, they never got to experience what it means to be back home and walk in the streets without fear of being arrested or tortured. But they died reassured that the ANC was a force that would one day fulfil their aspirations.
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Morogoro Conference, let us remember where we come from and the sacrifices that have been made. Let us remember that there are many who laid their lives for this freedom and democracy we have today, which many of us take for granted. Let us draw lessons from the Morogoro Conference and rebuild the ANC into a force with sufficient stamina to fulfil its historical mission. We dare not fail. DM
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is a Minister of Tourism and a member of the ANC NEC.
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