JOHN Magufuli, Tanzania’s president who died last week, was buried yesterday at his home village in Chato, but his sycophants are singing his praises into the Land of the Dead, branding him as “Saint Magufuli.”
In his five-year term as president, Magufuli had forcefully created himself into a cult and made some of his senior ministers, including Prof Palamagamba Kabudi, to subconsciously address him as “mheshimiwa mungu” – Swahili for “honorable god” – during one public event televised live from the State House last year.
The address drew public criticism and brought back to life memories of another event at the State House in 2019 when Magufuli spoke of how he had been using offensive words against some of senior ministers including Kabudi and Augustine Mahiga (his first cabinet minister to succumb to COVID-19 last year).
At that particular event, both Kabudi and Mahiga stood up and bowed spontaneously towards him in appreciation of his abusive words against them. It was an ineffable public humiliation.
Magufuli is on record telling the public rally that had gathered to listen to him at Kahama Township, way back in 2016, that he wished to be “a leader of angels in heaven” upon his death.
It was no surprise then, that his sycophants mourned his death with a new address for him – “MTAKATIFU MAGUFULI ” (St Magufuli) – clearly printed on a huge poster at his funeral.
Of course, this is a self-consolation on the part his sycophants, as detractors and critics point out to his cruel and violent presidency under whose brief reign hundreds of people have been harrassed, tortured, abducted, jailed, displaced, shot or killed.
His state-sponsored violence has left an indelible mark in the negative memories of the shooting of Tundu Lissu, the abdution and disappearance of activist Ben Saanane and journalist Azory Gwanda; the murder of Alphonce Mawazo, Daniel John and others; and several asylum cases including Ansbert Ngurumo, Godbless Lema and several others.
One of the his sycophants, identified as Benjamin Kasenyenda Andongolile, was photographed on the right side of the poster. He then posted it on his Facebook page and wrote a Kiswahili version of the phrase: “Rest well Saint Magufuli.”
Kasenyenda adds: “Rest in peace, the king of the hearts of the people. These youngsters here in Chato have decided to call you Holy and you really deserve it, I know the process of the church giving you holiness may take a long time and is always done by whites, so I confer you the status of Sainthood.”
Interestingly, 15 hours after the photo was posted on his page, no one commented; either by compliment or reprimand, unlike many of his other posts. Kasenyenda joined Facebook in June, 2009 and today – at noon his Facebook page had 3069 followers.
On Twitter, Andongolile was greeted with ridicule and scorn for his saintly branding of Magufuli.
SAUTI KUBWA found out that the people who made the poster were some youngsters, vendors of small goods in Chato – the late Magufuli’s home town – led by John Kalemela and another one known by the nickname “Golo.”
The late Magufuli, despite frequenting church services and giving public address televised live from the Church pulpits, was latently at loggerheads with church authorities – particularly some strong and outspoken bishops – since 2018 when he ridiculed and ignored several pastoral letters of Catholic bishops that had castigated his regime’s disregard for human rights.
Magufuli was systematically undermining the two main, well-established, Christian denominations – Catholics and Lutherans – in favour of smaller churches.
During his Corona denialism, he invoked God’s name, saying it was the only way to curb the pandemic. The churches gave him a temporary leeway until last month when Catholic and Lutheran bishops stood firm against his denialism.
At his burial, many positive things were cited about his leadership. Sheikh Abdurahman Ismail Abdallah, the Chief Sheikh of Chato District, praising Magufuli, said he was the only president who had the courage to stand in the church and call for a donation to build a mosque.
But our records show that 1993 when the Tanzania Episcopal Conference inaugurated the Butiama Catholic Church in honour of Former President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, in his thanks giving speech he asked the bishops and congregants to consider showing a similar act of generosity to Butiama Muslims by mobilising funds to build a decent mosque in his village.
Pastor Vincent Sylvester of the PAG church, in a small town in near Chato, Buserere, says President Magufuli was a national leader who used his position to unite Tanzanians of different religions and ethnicities.
The leader of TAG in Chato, Pastor Zephrine Kahigwa said the ongoing prayers in various places for Magufuli’s death were a sign that the leader was being loved by people of all denominations.
So far, the only Tanzanian Christian known to have been in the process of the status of “saint” by Catholic Church is Julius Nyerere, the country’s first president died in 1999. His life and works have been examined by the Catholic Congregation for the Cause of Saints, and in 2006 the Vatican opened the course for his beatification and canonization after having conferred him the standing of a Servant of God.