Tanzania: Mzee Mwinyi – I Gave Workers Union Autonomy

Former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi has recalled how he granted civil servants permission and freedom to form unions, which ushered the start of the trade union autonomy in the Tanzania post-independence era.

Autonomy trade unions emerged when the country was fighting for the independence, mainly in 1950s when the labour movement grew and became a force to reckon with in push for the people’s demands.

In 1955, some 17 trade unions merged to create the Tanganyika Federation of Labour (TFL) which collaborated with the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) to fight for the nation’s independence.

In 1956, the Federation of Zanzibar and Pemba Trade Unions (ZPFL) was founded with assistance from Tanganyika unionists. During the first half of the 1960s, the Zanzibar labor movement flourished and teamed up with the local peasants to overthrow the Sultan.

Post-independence era in 1960s saw the end of trade union autonomy as the government banned such labour autonomy and replaced it with trade unions to propagate the government’s policies.

But, following an economic crisis in the early 1980s and growing pressure for trade union autonomy in conjunction with the country’s transition to a multi-party system in 1990, Mzee Mwinyi re-introduced the trade union autonomy by allowing the formation of Organisation of Tanzania Trade Unions (OTTU) in 1992.

The 96-year old Mzee Mwinyi says in his memoir, titled: Mzee Rukhsa: Safari ya Maisha Yangu,’ translated in English as ‘Mzee Rukhsa: Journey of My Life’, that workers were grateful to him for restoring their freedom.

However, on the course of workers movement during his tenure, MzeeMwinyi regrets that some workers lost lives and others were injured as they encountered the law enforcers.

Launched last weekend in Dar es Salaam by President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the book is fully packed with the history of the Tanzania’s second phase President, Mzee Mwinyi; from his childhood, school life to extraordinary political career.

The book contains answers to several questions to give a true picture of his personal and political life, which saw him serve as Minister and President of Zanzibar and later on President of the Republic United of Tanzania.

Some of the key questions were whether he originated from Mainland Tanzania or Zanzibar Islands, why he resigned in 1977 from the position of minister of Home Affairs and why he succeeded the late Julius Nyerere despite the fact that he was not Mwalimu’s first choice.

Mzee Mwinyi narrates that he took a bold decision to resign as minister following the killing of people in Shinyanga and Mwanza regions. “I resigned out of my will, not a push from Mwalimu Nyerere or any other person,” he says in his memoir.

In the last sentence of his resignation letter, Mzee Mwinyi wrote: “Due to this embarrassment, I request you to accept my resignation.” MzeeMwinyi says, unfortunately, 40 years later, the killing incidents that forced him to step down are still happening in the country.