Wednesday, 13 November 2013
GOVERNMENT SHOULD APOLOGIZE AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR DR MVUNGI AVOIDABLE DEATH
I was quite shocked to see the prominent constitutional committee member and former Presidential Candidate for the NCCR Mageuzi opposition Party to be killed with out proper security provided by the Government. Dr Mvungi was Law Professor and critic of the current government . I hope this will be the lesson for other member of the Katiba team to be provided with proper security which they do delicate job to fit the opinion of different stake holders to this new constitution. Iam sure many Tanzanians are looking forward to hear the government action about the really killers of Dr Mvungi . A local prominent politician and member of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC), Dr Sengondo Mvungi, passed away on Tuesday at the Milpark Hospital in South Africa where he was admitted, following injuries he suffered when he was attacked at his home on November 2, this year. He would have been proud that the mongers of repression and suppression had failed to push through Parliament the controversial amendments to the Newspaper Act, 1976, which were aimed at imposing stiffer fines and prison terms on journalists found guilty of ‘sedition’.
He would have been jubilant to realise that there were forces to be reckoned with in Parliament who were ready to stand up and be counted in the fight for press freedom, freedom of expression and right to information for the citizens in this country – even if by doing so they would be seen as challenging the wisdom of the government of the ruling party, of which they are members.
He would have saluted Honourable Jenista Mhagama, Honourable Esther Bulaya and Honourable Peter Serukamba, who launched a spirited fight to oppose the draconian law from being fitted with even bigger fangs with which to devour journalists.
He would have struck his fist in the air with triumph when House Speaker Honourable Anne Makinda ‘ate fire’, to borrow a phrase that he truly loved, when she put the final screw to throw out the amendments in the just-ended National Assembly meeting by asking the government to table a comprehensive law as demanded by media stakeholders for decades.
But, alas, he could not do so because at the time he was fighting for his dear life in Milpark Hospital in South Africa where he was taken after sustaining serious head injuries when burglars attacked him in his house in the early hours of November 2, 2013. He eventually lost the fight, succumbing to the injuries on the afternoon of November 12, 2013.
There are a few people in each generation who touch the lives of so many people in so many ways. Dr Mvungi was one of such people.
He lived large with a full and hectic life, and many of us were fortunate to have met with various facets of his life and personality. Some in his early years as a journalist, with the ruling party-owned newspaper, Uhuru.
Many more have passed through his hands at the University of Dar es Salaam, where he taught law for more than two decades and later at the newly established University of Bagamoyo, one of whose founders he was.
Others knew Dr Mvungi as a politician and in 1995 he contested the highest office in the country. Many more knew him as a human rights defender and activist who was one of the founders of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, which has since graduated into an institution of great reputation in the country as far as human rights issues are concerned. Many others know him as an advocate who gallantly fought their battles in courts of law.
Many of us in the journalism profession still claimed Dr Mvungi as our own, though, even years after he left to train as a lawyer and became a university don and an advocate of the High Court of Tanzania. He however, continuously proved to belong to the media fraternity as a staunch supporter of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Dr Mvungi worked hard and long and tirelessly towards ensuring that press freedom and the right to information were enshrined in Tanzania’s Constitution and entrenched in the laws of the land.
He has left an indelible mark through his hugely patriotic work in the Coalition on the Right to Information in which he devoted time and provided invaluable legal support without compensation as part of the team that drafted the stakeholders’ proposals on the Right to Information and the Media Services bills.
Dr Mvungi was humble and down to earth and believed in consensus. Even though he was a law don and an expert in constitutional law, he never flouted – and was never blinded by – his superior legal knowledge.
During the drafting of the stakeholders’ proposals on the proposed bills, he would listen patiently to all opinions from other lawyers, some of them his former students, as well as from us scribes in the drafting team, during the long and at times heated discussions.
He took time off his work to accompany members of the Coalition on the Right to Information in making presentations to Members of Parliament and various other stakeholders on why press freedom and the right to information were important components in the building of a nation based on democratic principles.
I recall in one such session an MP from the ruling party accusing Dr Mvungi of being a card-wielding opposition party member hiding behind media activists to impose his party’s agenda. It was a nasty question, delivered in a very nasty way. But the law guru remained unperturbed and just advised the honourable MP, with a bright smile, to rise above party politics because the issues being presented were of national importance.
Dr Mvungi was not a pushover either and beneath his affable nature stood was a man boasting a rare combination of great conviction and remarkable resilience, one who stood by his principles without ever wavering or hesitating.
His passion for press freedom and freedom of expression cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps, it is his early years working as a journalist at Uhuru that sowed these seeds, but his later years as an advocate and politician reinforced his strong belief that free and independent media were important for democracy and the development of our country.
Indeed, the history of the media in Tanzania and the media’s struggle for freedom cannot be complete without proud mention of Dr Sengondo Edmund Mvungi.
Dr Mvungi served as a member of the first board of the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and, together with his colleagues, shaped what has become a strong, independent, self regulatory media body that is a shining example within Africa and beyond. Media practitioners and friends of the media from around Africa have come to study the “miracles” this successful self-regulatory media council has worked.
As an MCT board member, he served on the council’s Ethics Committee as Vice Chairperson – assisting then Chairperson Justice Joseph Warioba. He was respected among media professionals as a person of integrity and fairness and there is little doubt that trust enhanced the Committee’s work under the exemplary leadership of Justice Warioba.
Justice Warioba, currently Chairperson of the Constitution Review Commission (CRC), said upon learning of Dr Mvungi’s passing that the committee and the nation had lost “a researcher who was keen in whatever he did”.
No one can doubt Dr Mvungi’s credentials as a true democrat and patriot, who had a great love for his country. He was one of the movers and shakers in the multiparty democracy movement. In fact, until his death, he was a member of the opposition party NCCR-Mageuzi and served on its National Executive Committee.
Dr Mvungi for years crusaded for a new constitution able to chart the future of Tanzania and there was no surprise in his being appointed a Commissioner in the CRC until his death. Dr Mvungi was a lawyer who had specialised in constitutional law, and his contribution to the CRC was indeed invaluable. He will be sorely missed.
Press freedom and freedom of expression supporters were happy to have him as their representative on the Commission. We saw in him a staunch supporter and fighter for our noble cause as well as a passionate and articulate campaigner – and never were we disappointed when the first draft was released, as issues like the right to information, freedom of expression and press freedom were well articulated.
As Abraham Lincoln aptly put it: “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.” As we mourn Dr Mvungi’s passing, we should also celebrate his life and the impact it has had on different people and in different ways – and thank Almighty God for allowing us to have him amongst us.
For us, the best way to celebrate his passing is to pledge our commitment to the cause and to borrow from the last line of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s monologue Ulysses. We pledge to continue “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” until we have a free, responsible and democratic media in Tanzania.
To his family and friends, we offer our sincere condolences for this great loss. And to our great learned brother, Dr Edmund Sengondo Mvungi, we say: Fama Semper Vivat – May his name live forever. May Almighty God rest his soul in eternal peace. AMEN.