Retracing Che Guevara’s Footsteps in Tanzania

JR visits places where Ernesto Che Guevara traveled in the 1960s

By: Hedelberto López Blanch, special correspondent

Email: digital@jrebelde.cip.cu

2009-05-04 | 11:38:24 EST
Photo: GoogleZoom
On December 9, 1964, Commander Ernesto Che Guevara traveled to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. From there he departed on a long journey to eight African countries (he also visited China), meeting with heads of state and government and leaders of liberation movements.

During the three months, Che visited Algeria (three times), Mali, Congo Brazzaville, Guinea Conakry, Ghana, Dahomey (nowadays Benin), Tanzania and Egypt.

Che arrived in Tanzania on February 11 and stayed there until February 18. He met with President Julius Nyerere and other government officials and leaders of liberation movements whose offices were in Dar es Salaam.

In Tanzania, Che traveled to the small island of Zanzibar, which had become independent on October 10, 1963. Afterwards a constitutional monarchy was installed under Great Britain and the leadership of Sultan Said.

On January 12, 1964, a riot took place, involving mostly African citizens and the poorest minority of Arabian people. This led to a new government headed by Abeid Karume. That day the People’s Republic of Zanzibar was established. On April 22, Zanzibar and Tanganyika agreed to form a single state; and on April 27, 1967, the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was created, later named the United Republic of Tanzania.

Che arrived in Zanzibar a month after the riot, coinciding with the triumph of the progressive Afro –Shirazi Party headed by Karume (ASP).

After 44 years of Che’s visit to this country, he remains in the memories of many Tanzanians.

Cuban Ambassador to Tanzania Ernesto Gómez facilitated a meeting with the chairman of the Julius Nyerere foundation, Salim Ahmed Salim, who was also prime minister, secretary of State and Defense minister of Tanzania, and president of the UN General Assembly in 1979. Before, Salim had been Tanzania’s ambassador to the UN and Cuba.

Salim arrived in our country for the first time in 1961 and became a fervent friend and admirer of the Cuban government and people.

This outstanding revolutionary recalls how he met with Che three times, two of them in Tanzania in 1965: the first time in the former presidential house in Dar es Salaam and the second time in his house in Zanzibar. “My wife remembers preparing him a meal and how he talked about the Cuban Revolution and how strong African liberation movements were becoming in their fight against colonialism and apartheid.”

“I briefly talked to Che at the office of the Nationalist Party of Zanzibar which opened January 12, 1962 in Havana.”

Next we traveled to Kisambani to speak to Ali Sultani who had met Che in the 1960s. Sultani welcomed us with a joy and energy that belied his 77 years. After introducing each other, Sultani began to sing “Cuba, que linda es Cuba” in perfect Spanish.

Sultani spoke about visits to Havana in 1962 and 1963. At the triumph of the Zanzibar Revolution, Sultani was appointed Education minister and was Che’s aide-de-camp.

Sultani showed us a treasured photo of Che with the then lieutenant Mussa Maisara, the head of the youth organization Rajab Kheri and himself and other Cubans.

Sultani, who had just finished writing his memories, noted that Che Guevara talked about the awakening of African revolutionary thought, the struggle of the Simba rebels in the Congo (former Zaire), liberation movements in Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia, and about training cadres both in Cuba and Africa.

“He didn’t take a rest: his mind was like a huge factory continuously producing ideas,” he said.

We left Sultani, with his rendition of La Guantanamera, and once back in Zanzibar, we set out to find the house where Che stayed during the time on the island. As guide, we had the Cuban president of the recently opened Faculty of Medicine, Ridel Febles.

Febles took us to the town of Buba. After asking the locals for permission, we went to a modest house that nowadays dons a photo of Che at the entrance with the words “In memory of the 80th anniversary of Che’s birth on June 14, 1928. This was a temporary home to Che during his struggle to free the African continent.”

Che stayed on as part of the guerrillas in the Congo from April 24 to November 21, 1965, heading Column One made up of Cuban fighters.

The seven long months were carefully analyzed by Che in his book Pasajes de la Guerra Revolucionaria: El Congo, which he wrote at the Cuban embassy in Dar Es Salaam, where he stayed for ten weeks.

We visited the Cuban diplomatic headquarter located at 313 Lugalo Road, Upanga where Che wrote his memoirs.

The Cuban embassy, purchased in 1963, is a large building with a two-bedroom apartment out back. It was here that Che wrote about and analyzed the events taking place in the Congo.

At the entrance of this apartment is an image of Che with the words: “In memory of the 40th anniversary of Che’s arrival in this house where he lived from November 24, 1965 to February 1966. Here, he wrote his memoirs about the guerrilla struggle in the Congo where he headed the Cuban internationalist brigade.” Cuban Embassy, Dar Es Salaam, November 24, 2005.”

Che’s life and work are well rooted in the African people, as in Tanzania, where almost everyone knows about and admires his sacrifice and courage to free the African continent.

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