Hashim Mbita occupies a special place in the history of several countries in southern Africa and in the hearts of those who fought to take back their independence from colonial rule.
He was the last and longest-serving executive secretary of the coordinating committee established by African leaders at their first assembly in 1963 that became known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee and was hosted by the United Republic of Tanzania.
After taking office in 1972 until he said “mission accomplished” in 1994, Mbita mobilized materials and training for the liberation forces of the remaining countries still under colonial rule, all of whom gained independence during his tenure, including Guinea-Bissau (1974), Mozambique (1975), Cape Verde (1975), Angola (1975), Zimbabwe (1980), Namibia (1990), and finally majority rule in South Africa (1994).
Brigadier General Mbita died on 26 April at Lugalo military hospital in Dar es Salaam, and when he was laid to rest with military honours three days later, most of those countries were represented at a senior level to mourn with his family and the President and people of Tanzania.
Zimbabwe was represented by the Minister of Defence, Dr Sydney Sekeramayi, accompanied by the army commander, General P.V. Sibanda, and the deputy director Africa in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mietani Chauke.
Speaking at the military parade, Dr. Sekeramayi acknowledged Mbita’s role in fighting for human rights and equality in Africa, and supporting Zimbabwe’s war of liberation to its successful conclusion with independence in 1980. He said Mbita then continued to work closely with Zimbabwe to support the liberation of Namibia 10 years later and South Africa in 1994.
The delegation later called on President Jakaya Kikwete to deliver a personal message from President R.G. Mugabe, who is the chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and of the African Union.
Mbita served as Tanzanian ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2003 to 2006.
Namibia’s founding president, Sam Nujoma, described Mbita as “courageous” and a “symbol of freedom from colonialism and occupation.” Namibia was represented at the funeral by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who, as a young liberation cadre, was the representative in Tanzania for her party, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO).
Mozambique was represented by retired General Raimundo Pachinuapa, one of the most senior commanders from the liberation war and still a member of the top party leadership, the political commission. He recalled Mbita’s support for the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) and his visits to the liberated zones prior to independence.
The deputy minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Nomaindia Mfeketo, said her country has plans to award Mbita the highest honour for a foreigner supporting liberation, called the Friends of OR Tambo.
Zimbabwe conferred Mbita with a similar honour last year, the Royal Order of Munhumutapa, which is the highest honour that can be granted to a foreigner. The African Union had earlier presented him with the first “Son of Africa” award, and SADC leaders gave him the honour of the Sir Seretse Khama SADC Medal at their Summit in 2010.
These honours are not granted lightly, and the other recipients are the founding presidents of their countries.
President Kikwete led Tanzanians in mourning at the military parade at Lugalo Barracks, also attended by former President Benjamin Mkapa.
“There are very few people that have served the country the way Mzee Mbita has served this nation,” Kikwete said in a statement, citing his service to the party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) now Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), where he served as Executive Secretary, and in the Tanzania People’s Defence Force where he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, adding that there is not a freedom fighter in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and South Africa who does not know the contribution made by the late Mbita.
Hashim Mbita was born in Tabora in western Tanzania on 2 November 1933, and died on 26 April 2015 at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife and six grown children, and several grandchildren.
Future generations should also know about the key role that Mbita played but he would not allow his perspective to influence the SADC History Project for which he mobilized fiercely and was the patron. He insisted that the story should be told by the people who liberated themselves from colonial rule, and not by himself or others.
That history runs to nine volumes and will be published this year, after its launch at last year’s SADC Summit in Victoria Falls.
Mbita saw his role simply as a facilitator who was “doing his duty” on behalf of his country in supporting the people of southern Africa and the African continent. He was, however, persuaded to tell his story separately, and that story will soon be published.
SADC leaders observed a minute of silence in honour of Brig-General Mbita at their Extraordinary Summit in Harare on 29 April, led by President Mugabe, the SADC chairperson, who said the news of Mbita’s passing was received with “a deep sense of sorrow and sadness.
“It was he working under Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the Government of Tanzania, who oversaw the formation of our organisations, the programmes, the search for the materials that we needed, where and how we could get them, type of programmes for the training very crucial for the cadres learning to use the gun for the first time, and the deployment that was required,” President Mugabe said.
“The fact that we are now what we are, a free people, independent running freely, our own political systems – no longer with the racism here of the Rhodesian settlers or in South Africa the apartheid system of the Afrikaaners, that achievement he could claim to have been not just ours but his as well.
“Hashim fell ill and has been suffering for a very long time, bed-ridden and ailing but finally a few days ago, the Almighty called him.”A local newspaper in Zimbabwe, The Patriot, said, “A baobab has fallen”.
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