In remembering Mama Zippora Shekilango, the chairperson of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, Hon Zitto Kabwe tweeted one of her quotable quotes:
“Without quality education the nation will find itself stagnant and this is why it’s always important to meet and discuss the way forward.”
While giving out her views on envisioned new constitution for Tanzania, in the run-up to the Warioba draft, the famous lady was adamant that the document must uplift Kiswahili to take the nation to the next level. That was the typical Mama Shekilango, always having great thoughts for the betterment of mother Tanzania.
While her late husband, Hussein Ramadhani Shekilango, is embedded in the annals of Tanzania’s history, and has a road named after him (Shekilango Road, Dar es Salaam), it’s only fitting also to consider Mama Shekilango on her own merits.
The matriarch, who was born in 1938 was part of the history as she witnessed the liberation struggles not only for Tanzania, but also for several other Africa countries. She supported her husband, who was part of the liberation of Uganda from Idd Amin dictatorship.
On her own, she had been a long time teacher and headmistress, but more importantly despite coming from a generation, where both men and women celebrated patriarchy, she had been instrumental in advocating for gender equality. About 25 years ago, out of conviction that gender equality was the way to inclusive development, with others she mooted Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), an organisation, which has greatly helped in the fight for our motherland to make gains in gender equality.
In her career as a teacher at one time or the other, she was the headmistress of schools that used to do extremely well like Zanaki, Msalato, Kisutu, Jangwani and Forodhani. It was her love of education, for the girl child to have equal chances of education as the boychild, that led her to become one of the gender rights activists. She was against gender based violence and such other vices rampant in our patriarchal society.
According to the late matriarch, the education problems facing Tanzania are “shared problems”, so there should be no blame games, rather “all stakeholders with collaborative efforts” should participate in solving the problems.
In her philosophy- the woes in the sector have all stakeholders partly to blame and the most important thing, was for each entity- from parents, students, teachers, community, etc, to relook at what they were doing to solve the problems. She attributed good performance during her heyday to “patriotism and commitment by teachers in assisting students”
As Zitto Kabwe quoted her about lack of quality education being a recipe for stagnant nation, the good lady was right. Time and again, we have said that our quality of education is at crossroads. The guidance of this departed good lady is still vital. Let us correct our mistakes and make our mother Tanzania a giant in the education sector. Children going to the most remote schools in the village and those in cities like Dar es Salaam, all should get quality education.
I was saddened to hear that our beloved Mama Zippora Shekilango had died. Let me take this opportunity to send my condolences to her family, relatives and friends. May God comfort you all at this very difficult time, and rest her soul in eternal peace!
Lucky, the knowledge that a teacher passes on to the students, more often than not outlives the teacher. Her values will live on. Hopefully as a nation we can learn from her dedication to teaching, gender activism and all in the spirit of patriotism. To the likes of Mama Zippora, Tanzania always came first in their doings. This is a great lesson to all of us in public services today.
Saumu Jumanne is an Assistant Lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education