Goodbye to 'One of Us'

When the body of Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere was returned to Dar-es-Salaam from London, nearly a million people massed in the streets to welcome it home. As news of Nyerere’s death from leukemia at age 77 spread throughout the city, offices and businesses closed their doors. Radio stations broadcast a steady stream of songs of praise and mourning freshly composed in his honor. The Republic of South Africa lowered its flags to half-staff and testimonials poured in from around the world.

The object of this veneration began life as a simple herdsboy of the small Zanaki tribe from the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. Roman Catholic priests, recognizing his intelligence, enrolled him in school at the age of 12. He went on to Makerere University in Kampala, graduated, and began his career as a schoolteacher; the name Mwalimu, or "teacher" in KiSwahili, stuck for life. In later years he was quoted as saying that he was a schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident.

Some accident. Nyerere’s deep passion for freedom and justice, together with his discipline and negotiating skills, made him a giant in the continent-wide struggle for African independence. Not only did he lead his own country into independence from Britain and into union with neighboring Zanzibar, but he offered his newly independent country as a launching pad for liberation movements in neighboring countries, hosting independence activists from Zambia, Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), Mozambique, and South Africa.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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