Thursday, 5 October 2017

How Long Will Zanzibar Go on Creating Orphans and Widows?

4 October, 2017

Ali Juma Suleiman was assaulted by a large group on the night of September 26 at his home in Mtoni, Zanzibar. His wife, Rehema Nassor Juma, says that she witnessed soldiers wearing the uniform of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Government (SMZ), armed with rifles, clubs, and machetes. His children say that the soldiers came with three vehicles, and surrounded their house as well as the neighbors’ houses, at around midnight.

Ali Juma was assaulted inside of his home, then his hands were tied and he was blindfolded before being thrown into a vehicle, inside of which he himself heard his assailants discussing a place called Masingini. Masingini is not very far from the center of Zanzibar Town, to the west, heading northeast. There’s a big forest there.

When he was taken out of the vehicle, his abductors beat him with sharp metal rods which severed the muscles in both his legs, and he incurred many other wounds and blows. As his captors beat him, they told him that they were punishing him because he wants to “overthrow the government.” They beat him for a long while, until they were certain that, injured as he was, he would not get up again. They made sure that he lost a lot of blood, and, given where they’d left him – in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night – they believed that there would be no one to help him, that he would bleed out, and that that would be the end of it.

But God had not destined him for death that Tuesday, nor had any angel of death been sent to take the soul of Ali Juma from the forest of Masingini.  Instead, God gave him the strength to drag himself to a village near the edge of the forest, where, after a lot of effort – and after first being refused assistance by villagers who may have been afraid – two young men came to his aid. It is they who made it possible for Ali Juma’s story to be heard the world over.

Forty-eight hours later, on Thursday night, Ali Juma was taken by his God while he was at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital.  The ink set, and the book of his life closed then. Innalillahi wainna ilayhir raajiun! But the book of Ali Juma’s life was not shut until he himself had the opportunity to write the end of his own story.

On Wednesday, from his hospital bed, he was able to explain all that had happened to him 24 hours before. Word for word. Step by step. Just like in a movie, this witness had the chance to say it all. Up to the time and minute of it. And all that he said came to be confirmed by the people around him and those who had witnessed the beginning and the end of his tragedy. From when he was taken and what happened then, and afterwards when he was picked up, and then what happened when he first received medical attention. Those who abducted and tortured him in Masingini Forest, and their God, know what happened in between.

It was not the first time that Ali Juma had been assaulted in his home by those same people, who are believed to belong to SMZ units receiving assistance from other state organs. That’s why, when he saw them, weapons at the ready and so prepared for their mission, he said to his children: “Farewell! I won’t make it back this time!”

His wife, Rehema, says that this was the fourth time they had come for her husband and beat him. She has no faith at all in the government, since she believes that the government is directly responsible for her husband’s death. “There’s not one ordinary person who owns rifle, or a gun, or handcuffs. It’s them, the very same. They were wearing government uniforms. Its horrible what happened. My husband was murdered!”

This claim is also made by Seif Ali, the late Ali Juma’s son, who says he has no doubt about this, though he said no more other than to pray that his father’s sins would be forgiven and that he be laid to rest peacefully in Heaven.

What is certain is that Ali Juma did not die an ordinary death. He was killed. And he was killed for his political beliefs. In his public life, he was an opposition politician, a founding member of the Civic United Front since its inception in 1992.

Ali Juma had spent over half of his fifty years serving his party in various capacities, first in party branches, and eventually at the national level. His life came to an end while he was Director of News and Information for his party in Unguja Urban West A District.

What happened to Ali Juma is just once instance among many since multipartyism returned to Zanzibar. Unfortunately, these stories are only spoken of on one side of the political arena – the opposition.

If there’s one thing CUF is good at, it is fostering forbearance in its party members as they are made into orphans and widows, and left disabled. These things began in Shumba wa Mjini in Micheweni, where, the first time the CUF flag went up in that district in 1992, it took with it the soul of a party member, also named Ali Juma.

Ever since then, the weapons of the United Republic of Tanzania’s security organs, having had a taste of CUF blood, could not do without it. Within this quarter century of multipartyism, over 100 CUF members, killed in political violence, have been buried, and those left disabled number in the thousands. Those left widowed and orphaned are countless.

In nearly every CUF-supporter’s family, at least one member has been a victim of state and para-state organs. If someone hasn’t been killed, they’ll know someone who was wounded. If they don’t know someone who’s been wounded, they know someone who’s lost their job, had their house destroyed, or been denied work and educational opportunities, because of their political beliefs.

What’s more, hundreds of thousands are spiritually and psychologically scarred. Their injuries aren’t visible, but they live deep inside their bodies, and they cause anguish every day. Injuries, regret, and tears are the dues paid by those whose views differ from those of the people in power in Zanzibar.

And even with these scars, CUF has been blessed to have a leadership committed to patience and wisdom. Committed to giving its members hope that these trials are temporary. That Zanzibar politics will not be justly built by taking an eye for an eye or through the pulling of teeth, but through Reconciliation and National Unity.

What’s unfortunate is that the more the CUF leadership insists on keeping its hands clean to avoid bloodshed in Zanzibar, the more their opponents, those in power, see this as an opportunity to press them even harder against the wall, even pressing them right through it, to a point where they can neither defend themselves nor attack.

A serious question raised by this recent death – one among many untimely deaths – is: for how long will Zanzibar continue to destroy its own people, orphaning its children and widowing its women? How long will our politics be waged with our people’s blood?
 Zanzibar Daima.

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