He shook his head. He had big afro hair, like the one the young Michael Jackson used to wear. He shook his head not once or twice but severally. He shook it vigorously, as if in denial of what he had just seen. Even as he walked away, his shaking head remained transfixed on the unbelievable sight before him.
As he walked away, soothing spiritual music filled the air.
Faraja yako Mungu itawale nchi yetu Tanzania… the choir sang, each word releasing drops of melancholy.
Hatutaogopa. Hatutaogopa. We shall not fear. We shall not fear.
Many of the women in the queue had covered their heads. Some with kikoi, others with khanga. Others with hijab. Some broke down when they arrived at that sad spot. Oh, how they broke down. Burying their weary faces into their hands. Almost tripping in their grief as they walked away. Ah, what sorrow, wrapped around that spot like a blanket whose thickness still isn’t enough to give you warmth. Ah, what sorrow.
The Mickey Mouse T-shirt that the boy was wearing caught my eye. But only for a fleeting second. His dark brown eyes haunted my heart. They were exuding utter resignation. Helplessness. Just behind him was a lady in shaggy corn rows and a pink shawl draped over her shoulder. Two meters behind her, was a middle-aged guy in a green dashiki shirt. When he reached that sad spot, he bent so low that I feared he would tip over.
Thousands of people – men, women and children – filed wordlessly by the sad spot. Although some of them wore expressionless faces, their eyes, oh my, how their brown eyes oozed sorrow. You could almost touch this sorrow. There was this lady with a short black dress. While she was still at the entrance of the enclosure, she braced herself with a white handkerchief, squeezing it between the fingers of her five fingers. When she arrived at the sad spot, she hoisted the handkerchief to her face as her lips parted into a wide, wide grimace. She would have crumbled onto the red carpet if Red Cross officers hadn’t scrambled to her side and held her in their arms.
This was the day that Chato, a small town in northwestern Tanzania thought it would never see. The day that Tanzania and Africa had never imagined. Yet here it was. 25th March 2021.
A little girl, spotting short hair and a worn-out floral dress, walked by the sad spot without even glancing to the right like everyone in the queue was doing. I suspect that she couldn’t bear to look into the coffin and confirm what she already knew. That President John Joseph Pombe Magufuli was gone forever. Never again, would she hear see his wide grin, or hear his loud booming voice.
However, during his six decades on earth, he had used that voice to reach out to the common people and lift them up to a better place where they could walk in dignity and believe in their immense potential. We must now tap into this potential and make Africa an even better place.