Mazimbu-A small town that played an important role in the struggle for quality education for ANC exiles during apartheid
A place where people can remember the sacrifices brave people were willing to make in order to obtain a quality education and freedom.
Tanzania: Every year on June 16, South Africans commemorate Youth Day, a day dedicated to remembering the Soweto youth uprising, in which black schoolchildren protested the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in black schools.
Afrikaans was a detested language among the majority black population, who saw it as the language of oppression. On that historic day, 20 000 students participated in the protests.
What was supposed to be a peaceful protest turned into a bloodbath when police used tear gas and live ammunition on students protesting, killing 176 of them. According to some sources, the number of casualties on that fateful day could have been as high as 700.
Indeed, it is impossible to discuss South Africa's democratic struggle without mentioning the fight for better education for its black population.
Following the Soweto uprising, education became a top priority for the ANC (African National Congress), one of South Africa's leading anti-apartheid parties.
Many anti-apartheid activists fled South Africa and settled in neighbouring African and international countries.
Many of these countries served as safe havens for exiles, where they could not only seek political asylum but also receive a better education than they did at home.
Tanzania was one of the countries that helped these exiles with their educational endeavours.
Tanzania had at least five districts where the exiles could start their new lives. Morogoro, in the small town of Mazimbu, was one of these districts.
When you first visit Mazimbu, it is natural to dismiss it as just another small town with the usual amenities that any town should have, such as schools, hospitals, shops, businesses, and houses.
Mazimbu, on the other hand, is not your average town. It is a town that was crucial in the fight for better education for ANC exiles who fled South Africa during the apartheid regime.
As a university student studying Tourism Management at Sokoine University of Agriculture's Solomon Mahlangu Campus (SMC) in Mazimbu—one of the university's two campuses—I was fortunate enough to not only study there but also discover the rich history of this historical town during my three years there from 2017 to 2020.
The idea of establishing educational facilities in Mazimbu came from ANC leaders who were concerned about the poor education received by black South Africans in their home country during the apartheid regime. Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's then-President, offered the ANC land on a government-owned sisal farm in Mazimbu, and soon after, construction of educational facilities and other buildings such as a hospital, furniture factory, and offices began.
The Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO), now known as the Solomon Mahlangu Campus, was established in 1978 and named after anti-apartheid activist Solomon Mahlangu, who was executed by the apartheid regime in 1979 at the age of 22, a year before the ANC exiles arrived in Tanzania.
In 1985, the then-ANC President, Oliver Tambo, officially opened SOMAFCO. SOMAFCO offered primary and secondary education to South African youth who had fled the country following the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Lessons were delivered in English, and students received academic, vocational, and political training. SOMAFCO's faculty included educators from East Germany, the Nordic countries, England, Bulgaria, Guyana, Ghana, Australia, Austria, Cuba, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, and Holland. SOMAFCO had a hospital (the ANC Holland Solidarity Hospital), a factory (the Vuyisile Mini Furniture Factory), a farm that provided food for the facility, a maternal settlement, a crèche (Charlotte Maxeke Children's Centre), a primary school, secondary schools, and an adult education programme by 1989. Surrounding these structures were a number of houses that housed volunteers, teachers, and community members.
Mazimbu was also a location where the ANC could continue with their political agendas. Some of the major ANC officials who went on to lead and transition South Africa to democracy spent time in Mazimbu, including Oliver Tambo, Ruth First, Lindiwe Zulu, Lionel Bernstein, Mohammed Tikly, and Jack Simons.
Despite having a safe haven to call home and continue with their political activities and education, home sickness became the norm for Mazimbu's freedom fighters.
The situation appeared hopeless, especially given the bleak situation at home. The majority of them had given up hope of ever returning home and now considered Mazimbu to be their permanent home.
Unfortunately, some of them died and were never able to witness a liberated South Africa. The bodies of these fallen freedom fighters are interred at the Mazimbu Graves.
However, the mood shifted in 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years.
To boost their morale, Mandela visited Mazimbu and spent the night there, telling the exiles that apartheid would soon end and that they would return to a free South Africa.
The ANC camps in Tanzania closed in 1992, two years before apartheid ended, and the freedom fighters returned home. Oliver Tambo returned each of the five centres to the Tanzanian government.
Today, SMC is one of two campuses that comprise Sokoine University of Agriculture, one of Tanzania's leading universities. The image of the ANC flag, which is always present, is the highlight of all the historical sights found at SMC.
The Nelson Mandela Freedom Square on campus was used for political gatherings, and six hostels known as accommodation units were named after anti-apartheid activists such as Govan Mbeki, J.B. Marks, Lilian Ngoyi, Yussuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, and Bram Fischer.
Wall paintings of anti-apartheid heroes such as Lilian Ngoyi and J.B. Marks, famous human rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr and Che Guevara, and anti-discrimination slogans can be found in some of these accommodation units, offices, buildings, and cafeterias.
The Mazimbu graves, where some ANC freedom fighters and their families are buried, the ANC-Holland solidarity hospital, the Vuyisile Mini Furniture Factory, the farm, and the Chief Albert Luthuli Primary and Preschool are all located around the campus.
SMC has been visited by former alumni, South African citizens, and various South African politicians, including current President Cyril Ramaphosa and former President Kgalema Motlanthe, who paid tribute to the freedom fighters and thanked the Tanzanian government for its role in South Africa's liberation struggle. SOMAFCO's archives are currently housed at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa.
My final assignment as a tourism student at SMC was to determine whether Mazimbu has the potential to become a tourist attraction. I couldn't agree more, except Mazimbu should be considered a dark tourism site—a place of history and remembrance—rather than just another tourist attraction.
A place where people can remember the sacrifices brave people were willing to make in order to obtain a quality education and freedom, a place of triumph over evil, a place where Solomon Mahlangu's final and prophetic words, 'Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the fight, my blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom, A luta continua,' are now the reality of a now free and democratic South Africa.