Masasi. He was a quiet boy during his childhood, and a son who was closely attached to his father. On Thursday, July 23, he became quiet forever. Benjamin William Mkapa, the third President of Tanzania who passed away at the age of 81, was finally laid to rest close to his father and mother in the clan’s graveyard in Lupaso Village in Masasi District.
Benjamin was the fourth in the family of four children to his father, William Matuani.
As all eyes and ears turned to Lupaso Village where the nation gathered to bury their own son, a former president. A little boy who loved books and football, yet was so quiet and attached to his father are the memories that linger in the mind of Ms Rose Magnus Mkapa, Bennamin’s maternal aunt.
At 95, Ms Rose is now very frail and can barely walk. I find her seated outside her single bedroom brick-walled house, where her caretaker, a family member had placed her to speak to me. She lives about 200 metres from the homestead of William Matuani, the father of Benjamin William Mkapa, where the burial took place.
When I settle to speak to Rose, she wipes tears but as she goes on to speak, a faint smile finally emerges. “He has been so good to us, not just his father and mother,’’ she says and recalls a story of over 70 years ago when the late Benjamin Mkapa was still a school boy.
“He was a boy you could never meet in the village wandering aimlessly. It was him and books. On rare occasions, I would spot him with a ball and friends, playing. His mother was a very strict person. This may have contributed to shaping his behaviour the way he was, I guess,” she tells The Citizen.
“Somehow, I never liked his quietness, but that was him. I also learnt that he was doing very well in school matters. His father wished that he became a doctor, a teacher or priest. He has indeed lived his life like a priest, or rather, all in one. Whenever he came back home, especially on Christmas. He was an active member of the parish, and he has lived like that wherever he went,’’ says Rose.
Bread with honey
At home, Benjamin Mkapa had real love for home-made bread. “My husband [Rose’s husband] was good at beekeeping and honey harvesting. That’s when I knew Benjamin loved a sandwich of bread and honey. Whenever he returned for holidays from school, that’s what he always came yearning for.”
But: why Mkapa?
Benjamin Mkapa, whose body arrived in Lupaso Village on Tuesday, was finally buried on July 29, and according the Wakapa clan, members have to be buried in designated graves close to each other.
At her age, Rose believes death is inevitable and there shall come a day when she too will join Mkapa and other family members who have since passed on, however, the death of Benjamin Mkapa wasn’t something she was expecting in these days.
“I wish I had died before him. Who will take care of me? Benjamin had been phoning me very often. Recently, when I heard that he had written a book about his life, I really wished to hear what he wrote, and I was so happy to hear how he narrated it in his voice on TV,’’ she says.
Mkapa’s hand in Lupaso development
Lupaso, the late Benjamin Mkapa’s home, is not a spectacularly developed area and for years, villagers in Lupaso did not have a tarmac road. The village centre enjoys hydroelectric power and for Rose, the road to Lupaso had been a headache. “It was indeed challenging to transport the sick to the hospital far in Masasi town on that road.”
It’s until last year on April 4, when President John Magufuli directed that the 12-kilometre road heading to the village get upgraded to tarmac.
“Is it wrong to construct a road going to Mr Mkapa’s home village?” he had inquired at a public event in Masasi as he brushed off criticisms from people who said he was favouring former President Benjamin Mkapa.
“Yes, I am building for him,” he insisted. “I’m doing this so that when the time comes for his burial, the body would pass on a paved road.”
In what looks like “words come true,” Benjamin Mkapa’s body was taken to the humble village, through a tarmac road that villagers had always yearned for. For Rose, the road is an honour to where Benjamin Mkapa was born over 80 years ago.
But the village had been dodged with water crises. “We struggled and many times we used to ask Benjamin to help us find a solution. He finally did it. He has helped bring water here to the village,” says Rose.
During his presidency, she says, he used to be busy with national matters because he was a president for all Tanzanians. But, she says, “He loved our community... Not in terms of just bringing us water and other things, but because he always encouraged people to work hard and be smart.”