- “I have learnt that going to jail does not necessarily have to limit one from achieving their goals in life,” the Mwanza resident says.
- The 51-year-old father of four was sent to prison after he and his business partners were found guilty of engaging in illegal business. They used to buy stolen cows in Tabora Region for sale.
After spending three years behind bars, Halfan Kassa learnt one big lesson. That life has to go on after prison.
“I have learnt that going to jail does not necessarily have to limit one from achieving their goals in life,” the Mwanza resident says.
The 51-year-old father of four was sent to prison after he and his business partners were found guilty of engaging in illegal business. They used to buy stolen cows in Tabora Region for sale.
Born in Kasulu District in Kigoma Region, Halfan who was sentenced to a three-year jail term in 1996 now lives a responsible and happy life having put the dark past behind him.
Now a famous mechanic at the Igombe fish market along the shore of Lake Victoria in Mwanza, Halfan left Kigoma for Mwanza in search of greener pastures in 1992 after he completed primary education in 1991.
“I had quickly made friends in order to get a place to live. My new friends used to buy cows at livestock auction markets for sale,” he explains.
As they say, birds of a feather flock together. It took no time before Halfan joined his friends in the business. Within five years, the young man from Kigoma had become a guru in livestock business. From one cow that he started with, it reached a point where he could purchase up to 15 heads of cattle at a go.
“The business was well paying,” he recalls.
The father of four will never forget December 23, 1996, the day he was arrested at his home in Buzuruga. He remembers the incident as if it just happened yesterday. It was around eight o’clock on that fateful Friday evening when a group of policemen invaded his house.
“I was ordered to march forward and get into the vehicle. The rest I was told would be explained at the police station. I did not bother much as I believed I had done nothing wrong. At the station, I was directed to the lockup corridor, where I was surprised to find my business partners.”
Halfan and colleagues were charged with involvement in illegal business of buying and selling stolen cows. This was a big blow to Halfan since he had no one to inform his family in Kigoma of his arrest. He had no relatives in Mwanza and none of his neighbours knew he had been arrested.
In the hands of the police
Halfan had been married eight months earlier and per his tradition, his wife Martha, had returned to Kigoma to stay with her in-laws for sometime after which she was to rejoin her husband.
With evidence of the stolen cows that his business associates had been caught with, there was no way Halfan could defend himself. Butimba maximum prison in Mwanza became his home for three years.
All the cows he had bought to sell during the festive season as well as those of his colleagues were auctioned.
“To me it looked like the end of the world. The fact that my family was not aware made matters even worse. This meant there would be no one to help me out of the mess.”
Since there was nothing he could do to change the situation, Halfan had no choice but to begin a new life in jail. After spending sometime in prison, the home affairs minister that time gave a directive for prisoners to be given vocational training to help them in future.
“I chose mechanics,” says Halfan grateful he did because the skills he acquired have not only given him respect in society but are also his source of income.
When he was released fromjail in 1999, he immediately sent for his wife in Kigoma. She came with a two-year-old baby girl that she had had with another man. Halfan accepted the child, Maria who is now 19. His other children are Josephina 15, Doreen 13 and Patrick 11. He loves all the children equally.
He did not leave his wife for having a child with another man because he believes she had no choice given that she did not his whereabouts all this while. After all she was still very young. He says Martha was a good woman and that she meant a lot to him. Neither did Halfan ask for the details about the child. It was no big deal.
Initially, the first born in a family of 11 worked at different garages as a part timer and since he was a good mechanic, word spread quickly about him. He would be consulted by different garage owners and eventually became famous in the area.
In 2003, he landed a job at a firm that was owned by Indians called Yamaha Company Limited. The salary was not good enough to cater for his needs but it was better than what he used to earn before.
He worked for the company for eight years until one day in 2011 when he got a call from a stranger who wanted to have a talk with him.
Since he had never met this person and had no idea what he wanted to see him about, Halfan’s mind quickly went back to prison life. Was it a trap to send him back to prison? He wondered but quickly brushed off the idea.
Famous Mr T
He decided to meet the man, Mr Musoli, who wanted Halfan to work for him. HThe man owned a speed boat company, Musoli Company and offered Halfan three times the salary he earned at Yamaha. Halfan signed the contract and the rest was history. Here he was in charge of speedboat engine repairs. The firm has more than 200 speedboats plying different destinations in Mwanza.
The resident of Igombe in Ilemela District, Halfan is happy he earns a better salary with which he is able to take care of his family’s needs. His children are in school and his wife runs a small business to supplement her husband’s income.
At Igombe shore wher Halfan works, he is famously known as Mr Touch. Young men who are the majority speedboat operators simply call him Mr T. To them, he repairs any fault in speedboats at just a touch.
Halfan enjoys his work and the fact that his employer trusts him a lot.
“I have been working here for five years and have since bought land in Buswelu in Ilemela District. My plan is to build a house for rent, I have laid a foundation already,” he shares.
Mr T also has it on the cards to go to college in future to further his knowledge. His dream is to establish his own company thereafter so as to become his own boss and provide jobs to jobless young people.
Although he regrets the three years he lost prison, he quickly says maybe it was God’s plan.
“You never know. Perhaps I could be living a better life today had it not been the years spent in jail. However, there is no need to cry over spilt milk. since it happened I had to let it go and focus ahead,” he acknowledges.
Does he face challenges in his work? Ofcourse he does. He cites challenges like having to spend too much time looking for spares as Mwanza city lacks some basic spare parts for the engines he deals with.
“A boat sometimes has to wait for more than two weeks because of lack of a certain spare part. This makes some people to stay idle because most of them depend on fishing activities,” he explains.
The mechanic has a word for young mechanics. They should always work hard and strive to be at the top of the game.
As a parent, he wishes government would increase the number of vocational training institutes in the country, which he believes will help reduce the number of unemployed youth loitering in the streets.
He calls upon donors to support the sector so it can absorb the number of school leavers who join the labour market every year. He says the sector contributes greatly to the country’s social economic development and should be therefore developed.