Zacharia Hans Poppe: The untold story of a Kagera war veteran

Dar es Salaam. Today, September 15, Zacharia Hans Poppe will be laid to rest at his ancestral home in Kihesa Iringa, close to where his father was buried some 42 years ago.
The final farewell comes after residents of Dar es Salaam and Simba Sports Club fans on Monday and Tuesday paid their last respects to the businessman and football devotee at Karimjee Grounds and his later at his home.
Since his death which was announced on September 10, glowing eulogies have been written about a man that many saw as a calming figure at Simba Sports Club’s boardroom and indeed the multitudes at Karimjee confirmed that.
Though many knew him for his portfolio in business and sports, Zacharia, a grandson of a German national was a war veteran who served in the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF).
Unknown by most, Zacharia and his brother Harry were part of the soldiers that fought in the Kagera war that broke out in the tail-end of 1978 leading to the ousting of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Though not much is documented about their participation in this war, ironically, eight years prior to the outbreak of the war, Zacharia’s father, Hans Poppe who was the West Lake Region (Kagera) Senior Assistant Commissioner Police (SACP) had been murdered by Idi Amin’s soldiers.
His body was stored at Mulago Hospital in Uganda’s capital Kampala for Eight years after it was given a permanent embalmment and it was not until after the TPDF had conquered Kampala that his remains were repatriated to Tanzania in 1979.
Four years after their heroics in the Kagera war, a different chapter was added to Zacharia’s resume after he and his brother were arrested for a coup attempt.

Coup plot

Early in January 1983, there was an unsuccessful attempt to stage a coupe d'etat against the regime of Julius Nyerere.
The events prior to the coup and what happened thereafter are captured by Godfrey Mwaikikagile, in his book "Nyerere & Africa: End of an Era" where Zacharia gives his recollection.
According to Zacharia, by 1982, Tanzania was going through an economic crisis with an acute shortage of essential commodities. He says much of the blame was put on the shoulders of imaginary enemies – internal and external.
“Some of us got fed up and decided to look for change. The only viable option to achieve change at that time was through the use of force. We had nothing personal against Nyerere. The only thing was that he was surrounded by hypocrites whose survival depended solely on maintaining the status quo," he recounts.
The plot, he says, was engineered by one Pius Mtakubwa Lugangira from November 1982 and was to take place on 9th January 1983.
However, the plot never saw the light of day, because the system got wind of the arrangement and the plotters were rounded up two days to execution.

The arrest

On Friday, January 7, 1983, at around 1500 hours, the plotters were to assemble at a house in Kinondoni and then proceed to another house for final briefing as the coup was to take place the following night.
“I was close to the house when I saw Mohammed Mussa Tamim being chased by three people. Shortly after that, I heard shots and Tamim fell off the pick-up truck that he had jumped into in his attempt to get away.”
Zacharia followed closely to see what would happen next as Tamim’s body was taken to the mortuary.
“When I saw the body being taken to the mortuary, I approached the attendant and gave him some money and requested to see the body.”
He says what the attendant told him was very scary.
“He said those guys have taken a piece of paper from Tamim's pockets which had a list of names with military ranks.”
He immediately went back to the house in Kinondoni, to his utter dismay he found it surrounded by both uniformed and plain-clothed policemen.
“I found some of my colleagues arrested. I spotted some hovering over the perimeter fencing of the house. I went and informed them what had happened. It was 2000hrs and there was nothing to do to salvage the situation.”
At that point, it was every man for himself, for everything had fallen apart!
"Some decided to flee to Kenya where they were given asylum. I was married and had a one-year-old daughter.  Not knowing what would happen to them, I decided to remain and ride out the storm".
Zacharia was arrested the same night.
"I was arrested at around 3:00 am and taken to the Central police station where I found my brother Harry who was a captain and pilot. Since in the army we are addressed by surnames, there were two of us by that name.”
He adds:  “My brother was arrested first because he was staying in the air-wing barracks. They didn't know where I was staying until they asked my brother. The following morning my house was searched in my presence but nothing of significance was found. We went to my office again nothing was found.”
Zacharia recounts that he was not tortured physically although there were several threats to do just that or to harm his family.
“We were not allowed visits until a rumour started circulating that some of us were dead. To prove that we were alive, they allowed our relatives to visit us and bring some food.”
The identification parades were held and three weeks after their arrest they were formally charged.
“Thirty people were initially charged and all the military people were remanded at Ukonga while civilians were taken to Keko".
Those who were brought to court, along with  Zacharia Hans Poppe, included Lieutenant Colonel Martin Ngalomba, Captain Suleiman Metusela, Lieutenant Colonel Martin Peter Msami, Lieutenant, Major Reverian Bubelwa, Captain Vitalis Gabriel Mapunda and Captain Dietrich Oswald Mbogoro.
Others were Captain Rodric Roshan Roberts, Captain Abdul Feshi Mketto, Captain Harry Hans Poppe, Captain Manyama Athumani Kazukamwe, Lieutenant Badru Rwechungura Kajaja, Lieutenant Pascal Christian Chaika and Lieutenant John Alphonce Chitungui.
Also on the list were Lieutenant Mark Augustine Mkude, Lieutenant John Simon Mbelwa Mzimba, Lieutenant Gervas B. Rweyongeza, Lieutenant Othar Thomas Haule, Lieutenant Nimrod Theophil Faraji and Lieutenant Michael Mwigulu.
At the Court, it was alleged that Zacharia Hans Pope and colleague Tamim and other individuals plotted to assassinate the President of the United Republic of Tanzania who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Tanzanian Armed Forces.
They were accused of conspiring to overthrow the government between June 1982 and January 1983.
The case which was the second treason case in the history of mainland Tanzania after another in the 1970s was first heard in the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court, Dar es Salaam, on Friday, January 28, 1983, a week after the government reported that conspiracies to overthrow the government had been unearthed.
However, the case, which was originally against 30 people, was dropped on Friday, June 17, 1983, just days after the first defendant, Pius Mutakubwa Lugangira aka Father Tom and the second defendant, Hatty McGhee or Hatibu Gandhi, escaped while in custody
All the accused were put in detention.
However, the worst was to come for the escapees, after a year, Kenya and Tanzania repatriated fugitives.
Mcghee and a few others who had escaped during the first arrests were extradited while Tanzania handed back Senior Private Hezekia Rabala Ochuka aka Awuor, who were the masterminds of the August 1, 1982 coup against President Daniel Arap Moi’s regime.

Zacharia Hans Poppe laid to rest in Iringa.


Trial resumed on Monday, September 17, 1984, after more than a year with 19 defendants.
After a seven-month high court hearing, the four defendants, all TPDF soldiers were found not guilty of the charges and were released in August 1985.
 The acquitted were Lieutenant Mark Augustine Mkude, Lieutenant Gervas Rweyongeza, Lieutenant Paschal Chaika and Lieutenant Nimrod Theophil Faraji.
On Friday, December 27, 1985, Chief Justice Nassor Mzavas, who heard the case, ruled that there was a conspiracy to overthrow the government, as alleged by the prosecution.
Judge Mzavas sentenced the defendants to life imprisonment.
"After a long trial which went on for almost a year, nine of us were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment and the others were set free.”
According to Zacharia, Harry’s only mistake was to have a similar surname. He had spent a total of three and half years in jail.
"We were treated as political prisoners. Food was better, we were given beds, mattresses, mosquito nets, radios and newspapers. We were also allowed visits from relatives and friends".
Zacharia spent a total of 13 years in jail and during that period he changed prisons quite often, serving in Ukonga, Maweni, Mtwara, Lindi, Mwanza and again Ukonga before being released on Presidential pardon in 1995.
Life after prison
He says reintegration into public life was not easy in the beginning as many people used to avoid his company.
On his return after 10 years, his wife had divorced him and remarried. He too remarried six years later in 2001.
Some sports journalists claim that he loved sports from his youth and fell in love with Simba in the early 1970s, as a young boy.
It is claimed that the match that made him officially declare himself a Simba fan was after the club beat Yanga on June 23, 1973, a game that Simba won by 1-0. The lone goal was scored by Haidari Abeid 'Muchacho' in the 68th minute.
At the time of his death, Zacharia had become a successful businessman who owned several trucks and a towering figure at the Tanzania Truck Owners’ Association, (Tatoa).
He was also a member of one of the committees under Tanzania Football Federation