This day some 55 years ago, my father was exactly in my current age – in his early 40s – and had just arrived in Unguja from Tanganyika, where he spent some trouble years of his adult life. Being born in 1922, some three decades after the official intervention of British in Zanzibar, my father never knew of anything different other than a country under colonial powers. He had decided to come back to be part of the new Zanzibar after more than 70 years of British administration. He was also tired of running away from his broken-heart, a love story which started after the death of his first wife.
But that dream did not last long. Just a month after the British left, Zanzibar was invaded and the new government was overthrown. On the aftermath of the events that started on 11th January 1964, he was arrested by the militia whom he recognized as being from Bara (as what people in the coast refer to Mainland) due to their appearance and tone. His decade experience in Mainland gave him enough knowledge to tap their features.
They crashed him at Kikwajuni Street where he was staying with his friend. The first thing to be asked was his name. “I am called Masanja!” It was his reply, but his Afro-Arab composition betrayed him, inspite of sounding a real Masanja from Mwanza. (By the way, contrary to my mother, I never heard him using our Kipemba dialect. His accent was always decorated with Kiunguja and Mainland tones).
However, his ‘brother-in-laws’ did not beat him deadly. Just gave him some kicks and punches before they sent him to Raha Leo makeshift detention, where once again his childhood friendship with Salim Ghafir betrayed him. Having seen his old friend escorted into the camp, Salim rushed to my father crying: “O, my brother Khelef, they have taken you too!”
Soon after the shockwaves ended, my father collected what was remained of him and headed to his home village in Pemba. There he re-established his life and earned the trust of his folks who made him their de facto leader.
I took me long to figure out how his mother, my gradma Fatma, was wearing Afro-Shiraz Party’s (ASP) khangas and his son became one of 10-Section CCM leaders in 1980s as I do well remember to see CCM flag on our palm-leaves roof. He even adjusted my date of birth to resemble that of CCM, which has remained so forever. My father was not among those who invaded or helped the invasion of 1964. He never belonged to ASP nor to Umma Party. In fact, he and all his immediate relatives were supporters of the Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP). Was it about adjustement? Was it about fear? Was it about self-reconcilliation? Was it a betrayal to his own principles? I still search for answers, some two decades after his departure.
But it is worthy sharing here that my father was far from hatred against an individual whom they had different political opinions. I still remember when he yelled at me after I spoke ill against my brother-in-law, Nassor Issa Al Mazrui, who joined CCM and abandoned CUF at the public meeting attended by the then-deputy chief minister who doubled as education minister, Omar Ramadhan Mapuri, during early years of 1990s.
My father, as many others of his generation, was brought up during colonial times and had seen some bitter events during ‘Zama za Siasa‘ (times of politics), but was taught political tolerance. He wanted the same thing to us. During his last days in the mid-90s, he was admitted at Chake Chake Hospital where coincidentally one of CCM cadre, Yussuf Alawi (alias Yussuf Panzi) was also admitted, but many of Yussuf’s relatives were not visiting him due to his tendency of insulting CUF leaders at his party’s public gatherings, commonly organized by the then-chief minister, the late Omar Ali Juma.
Inspite of knowing all that and also being a staunch supporter of CUF, my father was always asking me to help Yussuf for his needs, especially during night. That was a reason why, even after my father was allowed to go home where he died after some few weeks, Yussuf came to be my friend and a brother.
During 70s, my father had his best friend, Mr. Mohammed Fakih (Ami Mohammed of Kangani) whose whole family in Mkoani belonged to ASP. In every clove harvest season, my father and his family would camp at Ami Mohammed’s family where he would bake and sell Ajemi breads, which was our family trade. A week before their arrival, Ami Mohammed would gather his family members and instruct them not to display any political slogans or rhetorics during their guests’ stay. The same would be done by my father when Ami Mohammed and his family visited our home. I did not meet Ami Mohammed in person as when I was born, he was already too old to take troubles of traveling from Kangani to Pandani, but I grew up knowing his children who are still my brothers and sisters to date.
Now, Zanzibar has reached 55 years since her flag was raised for an independent nation but she has not been able to make her children live together in harmony and understanding ever since. The flag of independent Zanzibar stayed high just for one month before the invasion which was followed by annexation in just 100 days. As the independence of 10 December 1963 was not welcomed by ASP and Umma Party supporters, so was the overthrow of the government on 12 January 1964. Those who supported the ZNP/ZPPP coalition did not come in terms with it.
However, my father, who belonged to the overthrown coalition, and Ami Mohammed, who belonged to ASP, managed to maintain their friendship and taught their children to grow as brothers and sisters forever. May be, my father believed that Ami Mohammed was politically wrong to support the party and the government that have thrown away the independence of their nation. Perhaps, Ami Mohammed thought my father was wrong to support the coalition that was maintaining the ‘Arab’ sultanate.
But, I think, they both saw more and stronger reasons of being good friends to themselves and examplary to their children. Can this generation find more and stronger reasons to reconcile our divided Zanzibar? Happy Independence Day!