Frene Ginwala 1932-2023: A Marxist fireball whose flames were doused by Julius Nyerere
Frene Ginwala with President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in the newsroom of The Standard in Dar es Salaam in 1970 (Picture: Adarsh Nayar).
THE LENIN SUPPLEMENT
by Trevor Grundy
In his book The Press of Africa – Persecution and Perseverance (Macmillan, London 1979) the Commonwealth media specialist Frank Barton said that if an identi-kit picture had to be made of the most improbable choice of an editor for a newly-nationalised newspaper in Africa soon after independence it would be something like this: a South African, an Asian and a woman.
Yet, it was Frene Ginwala, rather than some well-educated black Tanzanian male revolutionary, that President Julius Nyerere chose to be managing editor of the Tanganyika Standard after he nationalised the English-language Press in 1970. He retained the slightly more prestigious title of editor-in-chief for himself.
Until Frene arrived on the confused Tanzanian scene – a pin-less hand grenade in a sari – The Standard and its Sunday sister, The Sunday News had been part of the Nairobi-based Lonrho Group which also ran Kenya’s best known English language daily, The East African Standard in Nairobi and the Uganda Argus in Kampala.
Julius Nyerere – the Edinburgh University-educated intellectual (who his countrymen were encouraged to call Mwalimu which means The Teacher in Kiswahili) had written translations of some of Shakespeare’s plays from English into Kiswahili. With the assistance of his (almost) lifelong political handmaiden, the gate-keeper at State House and British Labour Party Fabian stalwart, Joan Wicken, he had also written a few books destined for schools about socialism. He had long wanted local newspapers to reflect his socialist policies after Independence in December 1961.
They went under the name of Ujamaa or Familyhood. His critics, and there were many of them, said that Ujamaa amounted to little more than an African version of the Sermon on the Mount / the social teachings in The Koran. the Fabians’ tortoise-slow approach to change and Pope Leo X111’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
Nyerere, branded a dangerous Marxist revolutionary by some British and American journalists and newspapers, was a devout Roman Catholic who had close ties to Africa-watchers in the Vatican.
The vast majority of Tanganyikans spoke Kiswahili. It was the glue that stuck different ethnic groups and religious cultures together. One should never under-estimate the important role coastal Muslims played and still play in Tanzania.
So what should Nyerere do about a foreign-owned newspaper group whose owners lauded him in public but who ridiculed him and his policies in private at their various watering-holes in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam?
Before nationalisation, The Standard was financed, managed and edited by Europeans whose homes were in Tanzania but whose hearts were well away from the world of Julius Nyerere and his socialist programmes.
In the mid-1960s, President Nyerere’s desire to project himself as the natural leader of Africa after the downfall of his most serious rival to that claim – Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana – was strong. How best to put across his main concerns? The nationalisation of the English language Press seemed to be part of the answer.
In Africa, the most powerful medium for communication was the radio. Control of the airwaves was the number one priority of any leader hoping to stay in power for more than a few months. In most parts of Tanzania, village radios were installed. At night, tribal elders and their wives and children gathered to listen to what the government wanted them to hear.
Tanganyika had been a German colony until 1918 and after his rise to power in 1933 Adolf Hitler wanted Germany’s colonies returned to him. British East Africa’s administrators and their overlords in London saw this as a bargaining chip with the Nazi leader. Between 1918 and their departure in 1961, the British did little to develop anything in Tanganyika, other than widen a few roads, encourage the growth of coffee and tea plantations ( all of them owned by foreigners) and help built a Westminster-style Legislative Council. Africans and Asians who joined in the “parliamentary” show were generally damned by young nationalists as sell-outs.
Surprisingly, Nyerere left the Press alone after his famous/infamous Arusha Declaration in February 1967. First the mills were nationalized, then the banks, finally everything that was in private hands. There was all of that plus a Leadership Code that set a ceiling on incomes and which stopped national leaders taking home more than a single pay packet. Then in 1971 came a set of socialist guidelines called Mwongozo – a document issued by the ruling party following the military coup in Uganda which overthrew Nyerere’s socialist companion, Milton Obote.
The Tanzanian guidelines inspired wild-cat strikes and struggles which lasted for the next couple of years and came to be known as post-Mwongozo struggles. Mwongozo’s most dynamic part was contained in Clause 14 which insisted that the lowest paid worker was as valuable to a company and the country as the highest paid manager and that the voices of the lowly had to be heard – loud and clear.
Socialists and Leftists around the world – particularly in Scandinavia – applauded Nyerere as some sort of African Messiah. But The Teacher needed massive overseas aid from the capitalists if he was to silence rowdy pupils in the classroom.
During a major speech in 1967, Nyerere – now the country’s unchallenged headmaster as well as teacher -explained the ramifications of his nationalisation declaration, someone in the crowd shouted out –“The Standard! The Standard!”
Nyerere replied: “Can you edit it?”
Scholar and socialist President Julius Nyerere in relaxed mood. Looking on is his lifelong colleague Joan Wicken, an English Fabian who held the keys to State House in Dar es Salaam.
The ruling party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), had its own paper The Nationalist under the editorship of an experienced Ghanaian, James Markham, when it was established in 1964. He was followed by Ben Mkapa, who went on to be Tanzania’s foreign minister and its third president from 1995-2005.
Frank Barton and other observers of the media in African Commonwealth countries said that President Nyerere was under intense pressure to take-over The Standard to underscore his radical credentials.
The pressure came from ultra-socialists in TANU and students who saw Nyerere and his mainly European advisers at State House as out- of -touch lackeys of the former colonial power (Britain) with only academic interest in the lives and problems of ordinary people – the much lauded Povo or Wananchi. Nyerere’s critics, who included many of the founder members of TANU, disliked most of the white expatriates at State House and called them (privately) the president’s economic praise singers.
For seven years, Nyerere’s most important economic adviser (and this was at a time when he was the darling of the donor community) was an American academic, Professor Reginald Herbold Green.
While commanding respect and admiration from the Nyerere Bureau at State House, newcomers to Tanzania were often taken back by Green’s eccentric, almost tramp-like, appearance, his whooping laugh, his head topped by long hair under a small Muslim cap, and his colourful neckerchiefs tied with a cowrie shell knot.
Green was unpopular with student militants.
The Hill was the name given to the University of Dar es Salaam which, in the 1970s, was the most radical campus in Africa. Many of the student leaders were in thrall to visiting Marxist lecturers who regularly popped in and out of Dar es Salaam, staying at the country’s most luxurious resting place, the Israeli-owned Kilimanjaro Hotel.
Although Green spoke their language, most of the radical students expressed suspicion when his name was mentioned.
Students were influenced by South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu and Rhodesia’s Ndabaningi Sithole, Nathan Shamuyarira and Herbert Chitepo; as well as American blacks advocating their own form of apartheid in the USA, men like Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X:
Black Panther activists, including Robert Williams from Monroe, North Carolina, had been allowed to set up temporary homes in Tanzania. They were famous for their all- night parties and drinking sessions at the city’s famous New Africa and their radical calls for armed force against white racists in America. But the “threat” to Mwalimu and his Christian/Ford Foundation/Fabian Party friends and advisers at State House came from those Tanzanians embracing the teachings of “the real ones and the big guns” who were ready to get blood on their hands and put razors round the throats of their opponents – Algeria’s Franz Fanon, Germany’s Karl Marx, Russia’s Vladamir Lenin, Guiana’s Walter Rodney, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and a score of other ideologues from so many different, and often warring, political denominations.
Diplomats and members of the socialist in-crowd greet Nyerere after ne of his many foreign trips. Here he is seen shaking hand with Frene Ginwala at Dar es Salam Airport in 1970)
Nyerere was suspicious of the lot of them but now and again curtsied in their direction
The students also worshipped Mao and took on board Chou en Lai’s prediction that Africa was ripe for revolution. That was not at all comforting for Julius Nyerere who owed his job partly to the British Royal Marines who had put down the 1964 Army mutiny that rocked East Africa.
One of Nyerere’s most serious rivals for power after the demise of Oscar Kambona (who did so much to end the army mutiny) was Abdulrahman Babu, a strong admirer of China and Mao.
Students at The Hill started ideological classes on Sunday mornings when Nyerere’s Ujamaa based on an African interpretation of socialism came under attack.
The (Franz) Fanonist theory on violence was dominant. The first issue of the student magazine Cheche (it means Spark in Kiswahili, the name borrowed from Lenin’s Iskra) in November 1969 said its aim was to support the general truth of international socialist thought. “Let no one misunderstand lest they consider this to be an advocation of the deceptive, superficial, idealist and historically retrogressive theories – the so-called African Socialism that have sprouted up everywhere in Africa. No! Socialism is one, scientific and international.”
Waves of intellectual protest lapped around the doors of State House.
Someone and something was needed to re-assure the masses that Julius Nyerere really was in charge and as radical – if not more so – than his growing band of critics. In early February 1970 the government announced the nationalization of The Standard.
But soon as it was known that a South African, an Asian, a Marxist woman would soon be in charge of the country’s most important newspaper, questions started (rumours, too).
What was the teacher/headmaster up to? Was he trying to polish his radical credentials to counter the brain-damaging rhetoric reaching the ears of pitifully paid urban workers and peasants? Why such secrecy in transparent, open, free Tanzania? Her appointment came so soon after the African National Congress’ 1969 Morogoro Conference which saw that organization allowing non-blacks to be members for the first time. Was her appointment a sign of Nyerere’s growing commitment to revolution in South Africa? Was he planning to “trump” the students who were openly mocking his advocacy of African Socialism/Ujamaa?
None of the international journalists in Dar es Salaam knew what was going on and the diplomatic community was no wiser.
Perhaps, quipped one American diplomat at a dinner party I attended several months after the take-over, Nyerere acquired Ginwala in the same way that the British acquired their empire – in a fit of absent mindedness. Then he added something I didn’t at that time begin to understand. He said: “There’s a saying they (the Africans) have – Put out the honey and see where the bees come from. Maybe Nyerere wants a militant to attract other militants so he knows who they are and where they all come from in Tanzania. And once you know who and where your enemies are coming from . . . “
When the sun went down on February 3, 1970, the outgoing editor of The Standard, Yorkshire-born Brendon Grimshaw, called several of us expatriates (then on two-year contracts and work permits) into his office to say goodbye. Later we all went for a drink at the European watering hole, the Gymkhana Club, which in those days only had one non-white member, an Indian Tanzanian who wanted to learn to play golf called Andy Chande who had been the owner of nearly all the country’s mills before the Arusha Declaration.
Brendon was dressed in a white shirt with epaulettes, white shorts with white socks stretching up from his well-polished black leather shoes to just below his knees. He looked like the captain of a ship that was about to sink.
There were tears in his eyes. He looked at me and then towards his deputy David Martin, the chief sub-editor John Gardner (who went on to become the night news editor of The Guardian in London) and several of the sub editors (not one of them a black).
It was like being a member of the cast in a Noel Coward play that Europeans put on so regularly at the city’s Little Theatre Club.
“I want you chaps to carry on as normal. Remember always. Same winning cricket team . . . just a different captain.”
The following morning Ginwala and a collection of brightly dressed ladies no-one had seen before filed into Brendon’s old office carrying baskets, files, books and delicious smelling food.
One of the Tanzanian reporters called them the Parsee Bombers.
A year or so later the now more experienced and confident Frene Ginwala called me in into her office and said she was gathering material for a hundred page supplement to mark the birth of Lenin in April, 1871.
It would be written by specialists and her new recruits, many of them verbal Marxists, fresh graduates who knew all the right words and who had swallowed all the right books handed out at The Hill under the tutorship of Walter Rodney. As mentioned, the students had their own magazine called Cheche, whose watchwords were Burn, Speak and Fight.
There would be no adverts in this colossal Lenin supplement in honour of the great man’s war on capitalism.
I joked and said: “I love Lennon. But what about Paul, George and Ringo.”
She ignored my weak joke about The Beatles and said I would produce it and that every photograph, every word and above every headline would first have to be seen and approved by her.
As I turned to leave she said – “You’re a hard worker, Trevor and I like the way you do our supplements and meet production deadlines. Sadly, you’re not a socialist and well . . . you’re so politically unaware, so . . . so politically naïve.”
After Nyerere kicked her and her revolutionary recruits off the paper in August that year, someone in the newsroom whose face I recall but whose name I have forgotten told me I should be proud of myself. “That was the kindest thing she’d said to anyone in 18 months,” he told me.
Senior journalist Hadji Konde welcomes Nyerere to The Standard soon after the Tanzanian leader appointed himself as editor-in-chief and Frene Ginwala as managing editor. The socialist media love-in didn’t last long.
There is very little one can say in praise of Frene Ginwala that she hasn’t already said herself.
She’s a South African Asian born in April 1932, daughter of wealthy parents. She studied law in England, was called to the Bar in London and then moved on to freelance journalism. But her main interest was in politics and the destruction of apartheid in South Africa. If she’d had a religion she’d have been a Zoroastrianism, a descendant of those fire-worshipping zealots who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. Frene didn’t worship fire. She worshipped Stalin.
In her young days, Frene travelled fairly widely in Asia working as a freelancer for the BBC.
In 1959, she returned to South Africa where she was trusted by the most senior ANC leaders to get Oliver Tambo out of the country and into a place where he could operate as the brain behind a guerrilla/propaganda war against the apartheid regime. She was one of the few people in the ANC with a passport.
Frene engineered Tambo’s escape and after much toing and froing in different parts of Africa, the departing British and the incoming TANU leadership allowed Tambo and Ginwala to stay on in Tanganyika.
At The Standard, none of the European staff had heard her name. But soon the rumour mill started up.
There were whispers that Nyerere wanted her because she was such an outsider and because he didn’t trust his own people to do the job. He promised her a Charter stating that there would be no interference by government. Nyerere also wanted her to organise a training programme so that Tanzanian journalists were no longer imitation expats from Britain. He wanted them steeped in Tanzanian socialism and believed Frene Ginwala was the right person to do the job.
After a lot of thought, Frene agreed. She admitted to being terrified of failure. “I was scared stiff” she said. “I thought I was going to be a sitting duck.” She knew next to nothing about editing and the title managing editor was meaningless to a woman whose writing skills had been developed in an ANC/Communist Party/ Spear of the Nation ideological coffin. So off she went to Zambia, spending just one week there learning at the hands of an English journalist who worked for Lonrho how to run a small newspaper empire. Barton says that she spent several nights having nightmares about losing all her expatriate staff. Thanks to Brendon’s re-assurances, all of us stayed at our posts.
But we were just journalists and Frene Ginwala made it clear from the start that was not what she wanted on her newspaper.
Every day from 8 until 10 am, trainee Tanzanian reporters were forced to study the works of Lenin, Marx, Stalin and Fanon – ideological teach-ins run by the South African communist journalist Tony Hall and Frene Ginwala.
She went on a recruitment trip to the UK where she landed some big fish – Richard Gott of The Guardian; Tony Hall, a first-class South African journalist who had worked in Kenya on The Nation (owned by the Aga Khan); a man from Scotland called Iain Christie; and Rod Prince, a friend of Gott’s and a former editor of Peace News.
All the Tanzanians I have stayed in close contact with from those days remember the first time Frene Ginwala addressed a full meeting in the newsroom. She stunned the lot of us when she exclaimed that there was no such thing as objectivity. Hadji Konde, a talented reporter hand-picked by Brendon Grimshaw to take over from him before the February 1970 take-over, said: “It was as though the new vicar had started his sermon by telling the congregation that the New Testament was a load of rubbish.”
Barton picks up on this: “Frene Ginwala told them that stories were written by human beings and human beings selected the stories. Their personal values were inevitably reflected in what stories were selected for publication. The urge to be objective was in a sense an unreal thing. She told the editorial staff that what was needed in Tanzania was a committed paper, not a neutral observer because objectivity implied neutrality.” She told us: “We are not going to pretend to be objective.”
From now on, The Standard would be a committed-to-socialism paper written by committed-to-socialism reporters; and as the papers were government owned we were all now Tanzanian civil servants, even the expatriates like me.
The look of the papers stayed very much the same but the contents and the editorials made people sit up and take notice.
One of the first things Gott did was look around for more socialist sources of foreign features. He certainly knew his way around world politics and impressed many Tanzanian politicians as well as reporters. After studying at Oxford, he had worked at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London. He had his fifteen minutes of fame in the British political arena in January 1966 when he stood as a candidate for the Kingston-Upon-Hull North seat, as the Radical Alliance candidate. He won 253 votes, one percent of the vote, lost his deposit and never stood for Parliament again. His far greater claim to fame was his identification of the dead body of Che Guevara in the Bolivian Jungle in 1967.
Material from Prensa Latina, the Cuban-based agency, landed on the features/supplements desk every other day along with articles in English taken from Granma, the Cuban newspaper, the American Liberation News Agency and the African Research Group. Vast amounts of material praising the ANC appeared. There was hardly ever a mention about its rival, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
And when Nyerere wanted something said editorially, a messenger would come from State House with a letter from Joan Wicken to David Martin demanding not a comma, not a colon, be changed.
The word “bossy” was often used to describe Frene Ginwala and her ways of dealing with journalists and MPs in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Until Gott’s arrival, our main source of news came from Reuters. Features were provided by the London-based Gemini News Service run by Derek Ingram, the former assistant editor of Britain’s Daily Mail, a man committed to the Commonwealth and Britain’s new ‘enlightened’ post-Empire role in Africa.
Ginwala and Nyerere’s declared aim was to get rid of all expatriates within two to three years of the take-over and replace them with Tanzanian citizens. Journalism was combined with political education classes run by Ginwala and Hall and a variety of guest speakers, most of them white communists from red brick universities in Britain.
Grown men and women born and bred in Africa were taught how to be “real” Africans by a collection of Marxist intellectuals from the other side of the world.
Books, magazines, pamphlets and unpublished PhDs from the Hill cluttered up the office. They included
an easy- to -read summary of Das Kapital by Karl Marx, Conditions of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels and Revolution in the Revolution by Regis Debray.
Considering I had never claimed socialist credentials (if Frene had known my fascist family background she’d have had a heart attack) it was to my great surprise that she asked me to sign another contract running from August 1970 to the end of July 1972.
David Martin, in those days a close personal friend and one of the first whites Ginwala got rid of, told me I was crazy and that two more years under Ginwala would turn me into even more of a zombie.
“You’re already half way there, “he said. “You’ve started to believe in all that bollocks about Marxism,” he said over a long lunch at the Oyster Bay Hotel where the city’s rich met and ate.
After a holiday in Egypt, Greece, France and England with my young wife and year old son, I returned to Dar es Salaam and found myself living in Brendon Grimshaw’s old flat in front of the Indian Ocean.
What more could a man ask for, I asked myself, not knowing then how soon it would all fade and vanish.
Apart from laying out and subbing supplements I was also responsible for subbing the letter pages.
These contained endless discussions on policy, how to take Tanzania’s wretched down the pathway to socialism and the Ujamaa villages popping up here there and everywhere. We carried letters on two sometimes three pages. People who could write told us about their lives, their fear, their hopes, their anger. Thanks to Frene Ginwala, a terrible abuse involving young Asians girls being sold to fat old black men in Zanzibar was stopped.
She organised lectures delivered by some prominent British Marxists. President Nyerere came to the newsroom (with Joan Wicken and several security heavyweights) to talk about socialism.One of his themes was how “We must run while they walk,” comparing America’s Man on the Moon success and Tanzania’s post-colonial backwardness.
During his first visit several Black Panthers had been invited to sit in. At question time, one of them asked if the Tanzanian government would give its support to their plan to have parts of America held only by blacks.
Nyerere said he had spent his life opposing apartheid in South Africa and was not now about to support black apartheid in America.
After the meeting, I heard one Black Panther growl – “The guy’s a sell-out.”
Apart from Richard Gott, the other prize fish landed by Frene Ginwala was the Kenyan journalist Philip Ochieng whose book “I accuse the Press” (Initiatives Publishers, Nairobi, Kenya 1992) has a section called Partisans and Scribes. It contains an account of Frene’s recruitment drive, her campaign to inject full-blooded Marxism into the staff and a reasonable explanation about what caused this extraordinary woman’s downfall in Tanzania.
Ochieng writes: “In all my 26 years of experience as a newspaperman in all the three East African countries, I do not recall anything like the kind of openness and depth of debate such as took place in Tanzania.”
He recalled that at that time the University of Dar es Salaam was the intellectual Mecca of all Africa attracting thinkers from all over the world. The Tanzanian capital was also the headquarters of all the progressive liberation movements in Africa. The most famous were the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde Islands (PAIGC), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), the African National Congress of South Africa (ANC) and the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO).
Ochieng writes: “Tanzania was the high school of my political education.”
The British journalist David Martin went to his grave saying more or less the same thing although he was never a fan of Ginwala or Ochieng who, in his book, described Martin as “a good reporter in the Fleet Street sense of the word, but a thorough going right winger.”
Frene’s favourite recruit was a young man with film star good looks and a first class brain called Abdalla Ngororo. He was her chosen successor as editor of The Standard, though there was growing feeling in the newsroom that Tanzanian reporters wanted their own grass roots ‘son of the soil,’ a nationalist with few socialist pretentions called Sammy Mdee; not some poetry-loving intellectual from The Hill.
Sadly, or otherwise, Frene was given no time to groom this handsome young student of literature who was kind enough to write me a few thousand words about Lenin for the supplement which consumed not only my waking life but some of my dreaming time, too.
For a number of reasons I was unable to meet the centenary deadline and the 100 page supplement appeared during the last week of May which was the last few days of the rainy season.
I inspected the final pages and sent them through to Frene’s office. She seemed delighted but on one of the pages she returned, a picture of Lenin with Leon Trotsky standing close by had been removed and the word “replace” inserted where it had been.
I asked Tony Hall why? He laughed and said that when that picture had been taken, Trotsky wasn’t there.
Novosti Press Agency’s man in Dar es Salaam was kind enough to send a replacement – Lenin on the rostrum on his own. Not a sign of the man who in 1940 Joseph Stalin had butchered in Mexico.
I heard on the grapevine that the supplement won third prize in some competition in Moscow.
Sadly, not a thimble full of vodka passed my lips in celebration and I cannot remember Frene ever mentioning it again.
It was Frene’s total commitment to Moscow that cut short her time in Tanzania.
Richard Gott wrote many of the paper’s editorials. and when she told Nyerere she’d landed him she spoke about his impeccable radical credentials.
But as so often happens with professional egalitarians, they fell out badly with Frene objecting to his pro-Castro/Maoist/Anarchist line and Gott abhorring her slavish loyalty to the Soviet Union and the Communist wing of the ANC.
“Frene,” he would say rather like a prefect talking to a fag, “If you don’t like it, do it yourself.”
After one serious and very loud disagreement she yelled out, so I and others in the newsroom could hear: “You get your politics from Peking and your arrogance from Winchester.”
Frene went to see Nyerere. Gott went to see Nyerere. They could no longer work together. The president had more than enough problems of his hands trying to make his chaotic Ujamaa re-settlement programmes work. When he heard Ginwala and Gott were at one another’s throats, the titular editor-in-chief told Joan Wicken it was time to get rid of both of them.
The axe didn’t take long to fall and came soon after a May 1971 attempted coup in Sudan.
President Numeiry had been ousted by a group of communists led by Mohammed Mahgroub. At first, the coup seemed successful. But within forty eight hours Numeiry was returned to power by loyalist troops. He responded by killing hundreds of members of the Sudanese Communist Party who only two years earlier had brought him to power.
To start, no editorial was written but after a series of secret military trials the executions started and the heads of many communist leaders fell. The Standard came out with what Frank Barton called a “strident” editorial. In so many words, it said that if you stage a coup it would be better to kill the head of state than leave him alive. Frene accepted responsibility for the editorial but it was written by Richard Gott.
Early on the morning of publication, Radio Tanzania broadcast “From the editorials” and some of the editorial was repeated with Nyerere listening in.
Sadly, no-one had told Frene, Gott or anyone outside of State House that Nimiery was shortly to pay a state visit to Tanzania. Nimiery was one of the few African leaders who strongly supported Nyerere’s correct and courageous stand against Id Amin in Uganda.
That evening Frene Ginwala was sacked. The new editor of The Standard was Sammy Mdee, a fan of Gott, a clever, street-wise, tactical enemy of Ginwala.
Frene Ginwala shown ruling party big-wigs around The Standard after its nationalisation in 1970.
I received a friendly letter from Sammy thanking for my past services but pointing out that President Nyerere wanted all senior posts on the Daily News filled by Tanzanians.
That night I had supper with David Martin at his small cottage home close to Kurasini Creek. David was now a highly respected and influential freelancer working mainly for The Observer but also for the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, in those days edited by the Ugandan journalist, Israel Wamala. I told him that I had been told to leave The Standard earlier than expected and that I was thinking of trying to get a job in Nairobi – either on The Nation or The Lonrho-owned East African Standard. The latter was edited by a man called Colonel Kenneth Bolton who was a close friend of Kenya’s Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, who looked and dressed like a tailor’s dummy and who David Martin wittily described as an Afro Saxon.
“In my CV do you think I should mention to Colonel Bolton that I produced a hundred page supplement on Lenin,” I asked.
“Only if you want to be PI’d from Kenya for the rest of your life,” he said.
I stayed with The Nation in Nairobi for less than a year, resigning after receiving a letter from one of the Aga Khan’s representatives ordering me not to publish any critical features about Idi Amin until AK had got all members of his Ismaili community out of Uganda and into other parts of the Commonwealth.
Most of them went to Canada where the billionaire religious leader pumped an un-known number of dollars into the tourist industry.
I returned to England where I worked for Jim Bailey’s Drum magazine in a Victorian office over a post office in Fleet Street, and later on flew to Zambia in February 1974 where I lived for another two years before working briefly in South Africa, then Zimbabwe from the end of the war there until 1996.
In October that year I went “home” searching for the past and sadly finding it.
My desire to see Africa was strong and early in 2002 I bumped in to Andy Chande again in Baker Street, London. Chande had been chairman of the board of governors at Tanganyika Newspapers in 1968. He was rich having married into the Madhvani family who owned so much of Uganda before Idi Amin kicked out the Asians in 1971. He told me he needed help with his autobiography. He took me on. One of the perks was a free trip to Dar es Salaam.
My wife said: “You’ll be crazy to go.”
In Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1996 I had been a correspondent for Beeld as well as the SABC’s Radio Today. I travelled often to South Africa, sometimes carrying shopping lists for white ANC supporters who were calling for even tougher sanctions against the apartheid regime from their new homes in exile.
Of course, I knew how Tanzanians under Nyerere had so loathed apartheid and anyone connected to it- unless your name was Harry Oppenheimer who went there regularly to keep his eye on his diamond mines.
Thirty years had gone by before I went back to Tanzania.
In August 2002 in Dar es Salaam, I was given a guarded to cool welcome by many of the now elderly men who’d been trainee reporters all those years before. They were curious to know what had happened to Richard Gott.
Had he really a KGB agent? Was it true he’d resigned from The Guardian after The Spectator exposed him as a KGB agent? Had he changed that much? How could he have worked for the KGB when he was such a Maoist in Tanzania? One told me how much he liked the red headed author. “He was so modest. We shook hands. I asked him if I should call him Richard or Mr Gott and he patted my shoulder and said – ‘Call me Comrade.’”
I told them that Gott denied he’d been a KGB agent but admitted he’d taken what he called “red gold” during a trip with his partner to the Soviet Union. He told reporters that he’d been stupid accepting money but at the time it seemed such an enjoyable joke.
They knew about Iain Christie who had gone to Maputo where he broadcast against all-white rule in Rhodesia and had earned the derogatory title in Salisbury and Pretoria of “Lord McHaw Haw” because of his Scottish origin.
As for Tony Hall and Rod Prince . . . I knew nothing.
David Martin they all knew and respected. “He never let us down,” said a man who had been trained by Grimshaw long before Frene Ginwala came onto the scene.
“And you. What happened to you . . . Mzee Trevor Grundy.”
I’d left Tanzania in August 1972 still a fairly young man. Back again three decades later I was a Mzee, an honorific title for Old Man.
But I, too had a few questions –
What happened to the student revolutionaries on The Hill, their magazine Cheche, the revolution they planned? Where were they now and what were they doing?
As we ate and drank the answers came, slowly, reluctantly –
Dead, most of them . . .or bank managers, lecturers or men doing okay with the World Bank, the African Development Bank or the IMF.
Cheche was banned after its third issue on the ground that its name gave the impression that Tanzania was building Russian socialism and not true Tanzanian /African socialism. A statement from the students’ union (USARF) said “. . . we do not doubt the wisdom promoting our ban. But one thing must be remembered. Organisations can be banned, individuals can be liquidated but ideas live on. Revolutionary ideas never die.”
One girl from Arusha in her early twenties told me she was a newly qualified sub-editor working for one of the new independent newspapers in Tanzania.
She’d trained at a London technical college paid for by the Commonwealth. Her ambition was to own a flat in Tottenham because she supported Spurs and liked Indian restaurants. She told me that young Tanzanians knew about Nyerere from history at school and everyone respected him because he lived in a beach house and wasn’t corrupt.
She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in me or any of the other whites who crowded in during the Arusha Declaration/Frene Ginwala years and she left when she heard a call to prayer from the top of one of the city’s minarets. Before she left she said -“Revolutions . . . SO 1960s.”
Frene Ginwala with some of the reporters she inherited in 1970. Onn her right in British journalist David Martin who remains a hero to many Tanzanian journalists today. Behind him in sunglasses (at eleven o’clock) is the author of this article who worked at The Standard from 1968-1972).
On the day before I left, I had lunch with a long serving TANU MP who told me, after several beers, that he and his colleagues spent most of the time undoing what Julius Nyerere had done so long before.
At one end of the dining room there was a large colour portrait of Nyerere. At the other, a large colour portrait of Ben Mkapa, David Martin’s great friend and Tanzania’s level-headed third president who wrote the foreword to Andy Chande’s autobiography, “A Knight in Africa” (Penumbra Press, Canada 2005)
The MP (he would not appreciate being named) said: “Julius was a good man; maybe a great man but he should have been a teacher or a missionary. So should Kenneth Kaunda, with his guitar and his hymns. Nyerere ruined the country. He was surrounded by a group of idiots who encouraged him to forcibly move millions of peasants and their families in to ujamaa villages without water or electricity or any kind of central planning. And why did the World Bank applaud and provide more than US$ 15 billion in aid during the first 30 years of independence? Why would the world’s capitalists and their banks applaud an enemy of capitalism? And when he got rid of Amin in Uganda he restored Obote which triggered off another civil war. Do you now that towards the end of his life he said capitalism was better than socialism? “
“But everywhere I go there are pictures of him – on walls, on office desks offices – even in hotel bars”, I commented.
He said: “We all need myths and legends. You have Dunkirk and Churchill. We have ujamaa and Nyerere.”
He asked me what I remembered best about my years in Tanzania.
I laughed and said – “The beer and the Lenin Supplement. April or May 1971. One hundred pages to mark the centenary of the birth of Lenin.”
He half-grimaced. “Don’t talk about that. That came up at a party caucus. Someone found out what it had cost the taxpayer . . . one hundred pages, no adverts and all about a man no-one had heard of.”
His face widened and a smile appeared. Several of his teeth were gold. “Do you know what happened to it?”
I remembered the night it came off the press and the look on the faces of the young deliverymen in ragged shirts and wet cotton shorts who hadn’t been told about the extra heavy burden they’d have behind them that night.
“When they were well away from the newspaper building, they chucked the lot of them into the storm drains of the city causing a temporary blockage of Dar as Salaam’s drainage system.”
I said: “Trotsky predicted Lenin’s opponents would end up in the dustbin of history. On this occasion, it was Lenin who ended up in the storm drains of Dar es Salaam.”
He said: “You said you were worried about coming here after you’d worked for the SABC while you lived in Harare and became a Zimbabwean citizen. Half the country’s owned by foreigners – a lot of them South Africans. If you seek Julius Nyerere’s monument, look around. High-rise tower blocks everywhere. The povo would be booted away if they tried to get through those glass doors.”
Then he laughed: “If you want to learn Afrikaans this is the place to be.”
Stupidly I said –“The past is another country.”
“No,” he said. “Another planet.”
And then: “Why did any of you come here? Why all this wanting to see in Africa do all the things you’d never dream of asking for in your own countries? All the social reforms you never had in your own countries? That American economist Reg Green who pushed Nyerere further and further towards the complete nationalisation of . . . everything. And his eternal quoting of the poet Robert Browning as more and more of the country went to the dogs – “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Who owns the land in Britain and America? Why don’t the Yanks give the land back to the original owners if they’re that concerned about ethics and morality? Doesn’t your famous Prince of Wales own Cornwall? I suppose it was partly our fault for letting you people in, letting you teach our people the wonder and the power of words, the use of certain phrases said in a certain way. You didn’t have to do anything to be a socialist. You just had to say the right thing at the right time and nod, like one of those dogs you see in the back windows of cars. So many sycophants. So many hypocrites posing as socialists. Speak Left and live Right. I read somewhere that Gott goes grouse shooting in Yorkshire with Tariq Ali while calling Pol Pot’s genocide an interesting experiment in human engineering. Do any of these international socialists with their international commitments live in the Third World now? I don’t think so? You all came like 19th century missionaries and now you’ve all had enough and you’ve all sailed home.”
I said: “Engels hunted two days a week with the Cheshire in Manchester. He said it was valuable training for a future commander of revolutionary armies. Perhaps Gott and Ali were practising shooting counter-revolutionaries.”
The European rose in me: “But it’s not just Whites. Look at the great Eldridge Cleaver. Didn’t he end up some Republican Party religious freak?”
I thought he might hit me. Instead, he laughed:
“The question we all ask now is why our former white overlords were so keen to dismantle their own power structures in Africa and let us take their place. Isn’t that called suicide? What was their real agenda? Were they acting under instructions? Was it all some sort of gigantic pretence to infiltrate us and mislead us?”
I said: “I think Africans are pretty good at misleading themselves. They don’t need outside help. Once the minerals have been sucked out of the ground no-one in the West will give a toss what happens to any of you. But at least Frene got people thinking. What happened after she got the kick? Not too much debate about anything controversial after that, I bet. The man who took over from her was Sammy Mdee. I bet he didn’t have too many ups and downs with Nyerere and TANU. He turned reporters into tape-recorders and loud-speakers for the fat cats. And what happened to all those Marxist revolutionaries at The Hill? I’m told most of them are dead from Aids or bank managers.”
He told me that there was next to nothing left of Nyerere’s long innings. Just portraits on walls, post cards in bookshops, polished and self-censored memories in books.
“Socialism,” he said. “The profitable management of shortages.”
We moved into the street and walked into a wall of heat and humidity that for a while ended our respective monologues.
He said I should try my hand at a book about those people and that time.
“You say you’re not an academic. That’s in your favour. Emulate John Locke who said it was ambition enough to be employed as an under-labourer clearing the ground a little and removing some of the rubbish that lies in the way of knowledge. So many memoirs, so many sob stories . . . all written by well-paid idealists saying the African revolution let them down. All of them gone, all patting one another on the back and applauding their respective heroisms, spreading what the poet Louis Macneice in the 1930s called the myth of themselves.”
“ I guess one day Frene will be part of the ANC myth,” I said. ‘She’s in South Africa now and people I know say she intends to stay there forever.”
“That makes me feel much better,” he said.
(The Lenin Supplement was first published by the South African on-line magazine ‘Politicsweb’ on August 15, 2017. The above is a slightly edited version of the original).
All pictures by Adarsh Nayar, Tanzania’s internationally acclaimed photographer (picture: Trevor Grundy)