“More than 40 years ago, over 50,000 Chinese came to Africa with their devotion to African people. They worked side by side with their brothers and sisters of Tanzania and Zambia, overcame various difficulties and completed the construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (TAZARA) – the railway of freedom with their sweat, and blood and even gave up their lives.
More than 60 Chinese workers sacrificed their precious lives on this land far away from their motherland - China… They interpreted the great spirit of internationalism with their lives… Their names, just like TAZARA will always be remembered in the hearts of the Chinese, Tanzanians and Zambia people.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping at the cemetery for deceased Chinese workers and experts laid to rest in the construction of the Great Uhuru Railway – TAZARA – during his state visit to Tanzania in 2013. A NEW BOOK, with the quotation above by the Chinese leader that contains a comprehensive documentation of the process of the construction of a railway line from Tanzania to Zambia in the heat of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa against minority rule and apartheid has now been published.
Compiled by the Department of Policy Planning of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and published by the Chinese World Affairs Press the book will be very useful for present and future generations with an interest in Africa’s history and genuine Chinese support to African people.
Known here then as the ‘Great Uhuru Railway’ during its construction in the seventies, the book carries reflections of the Tanzanian Third-Phase President, Benjamin William Mkapa and erstwhile Prime Minister and veteran diplomat, Salim Ahmed Salim.
Even an entrepreneur, a veteran one for that matter, Mr Abdul Haji, has a chapter in the book giving his narrations of the great project. He had come into regular contact with Chinese workers working on the railway line in the late sixties and seventies.
Far from being a dry one, the book is illustrated with photographs of various interesting events in the construction project even showing Chinese workers arriving in Tanzania by sea. Reading a narration of former President Benjamin Mkapa who was also my Editor at the Tanzanian earliest newspapers in the seventies, The Nationalist and Uhuru was interesting. Narrates Ndugu Mkapa: “When the construction of the TAZARA started, I was Editor-in-Chief of the Party newspapers, which were The Nationalist and Uhuru.
At that time, The Nationalist and all other newspapers were reporting very extensively on the growing relations between China and Tanzania and the visit of Zhou Enlai to Tanzania. “We had to prepare the people about this new relationship.
As Tanzania was a former trust territory of the United Nations under Britain, it is understandable that our attitude was usually accommodating to Western countries such as Britain and the USA. And this was at the peak of the Cold War, so there was a natural inclination for our people to think Western than Eastern.
“We had the task of educating our people that Tanzania is non-aligned and that Tanzania is now independent and we must make our own decision to take care of our own national interests. Although the West would want us to this western and promote western interests, this was not our role.
“This was very much emphasized by President Nyerere, particularly with regard to the project of TAZARA. While at that time Britain, the USA and many western countries recognized that the railway was a feasible project and could be constructed; they were not prepared to finance or to lend us money to build it.
They said it could not be commercially viable. “Our principal reason for building the Tanzania- Zambia Railway, apart from the fact that it was an independent decision, was to help land-locked Zambia have an alternative route to the sea, as opposed to the route which was going through Southern Rhodesia and South Africa then ruled by minority racist regimes.
“We also had to explain that Tanzania had a responsibility for helping the growing liberation movements in Southern Africa and building TAZARA would be one way of supporting them. So this was certainly why Western countries were not that keen on building this railway.
They thought it would help the liberation movements and threaten the lives of their kith and kin in Southern Africa.” What you have just read are the reflections of former President Mkapa.
They were valid those days as they are valid today because a friend in need is a friend indeed especially when that friend shows up to assist you to cut off the yokes of colonialism and racist subjugation as the Chinese very practically did.
On his part, renowned diplomat, former Prime Minister Salim Ahmed Salim enjoins in the book: “One has to understand the context in which the request for TAZARA was made by founder President Mwalimu Nyerere…
“This was at the height of the Cold War, and it was fashionable to attack China. One example I can tell is when Premier Zhou Enlai visited Africa for the first time, he made a famous statement in Somalia then when he said: “Africa is ripe for Revolution.” “What followed was a brutal attack on him, alleging he was bringing subversion in Africa. But President Nyerere came out very strongly to say that Zhou Enlai was right – indeed Africa was ripe for Revolution.
“And this “revolution” in the mind of the two leaders, Zhou Enlai and Mwalimu Nyerere was about the liberation of the African continent from racist and minority regimes in Southern Africa then.” Now Southern Africa is basically free, thanks to the timely construction of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway built with Chinese support which has eased, in no small measure Zambian economic pressure then to have to depend on the then neighbouring minority and apartheid regimes.
As pointed out, this book has come at the right time recording for the interest of the present and future generations on where the continent has come from and where it is today. Above all, Africa has an obligation to pay tribute to China for coming along to unlock the yokes of racism and minority rule.
The biggest challenge now facing both Tanzania and Zambia is to ensure that the railway is utilised to the maximum in the interest of interaction between the people of Southern Africa wishing to engage commercially and otherwise with their brethren in Eastern Africa.