Tanzania’s WWII veterans need help as their numbers dwindle

Veterans seek financial, medical support

Kizito Makoye   | 01.09.2021
Tanzania’s WWII veterans need help as their numbers dwindle FILE PHOTO

TABORA, Tanzania

Remaining veterans from Tanzania who fought in the World War II are seeking medical and financial support to address their worsening plight because of old age.

Speaking with Anadolu Agency, some veterans said many who served as soldiers, porters and aid workers in Britain’s King’s African Riffles (KAR) army, are seeking support.

Rashidi Hamza, 96, said veterans are disappointed to see that their contributions have been forgotten and most are living in misery without government support.

“We fought bravely to defend the colonial government but our contribution has not been honored,” he told Anadolu Agency. “When I get sick, nobody helps me except my grandchildren. I feel neglected.”

Hamza said veterans need urgent financial support to cater to medical needs and food.

“Some of us are too old to walk on their own,” he said.

More than half a million Africans fought in the World War II. A total of 289,530 were recruited by the KAR and came from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi.

Tanzania has acknowledged the sacrifice of its nation’s heroes, including WWII veterans, and dedicated July 25 each year to honor their bravery and sacrifice.

A wreath-laying ceremony usually evokes memories and reopens unhealed wounds.

“We recognize WWII veterans and the government is willing to support them in the best possible way,” said Abel Makubi, permanent secretary of the Health and Social Welfare Ministry.

He said the government is still gathering details to enroll veterans in health insurance plans and make them eligible for monthly pensions.

Imran Shamte was barely 20 when he was recruited by the KAR and fought for a cause he hardly understood.

“I was a small boy when I was grabbed from home to go to the war,” he said.

More than 70 years later, memories of defending colonial masters are still fresh.

Shamte, who rose to the rank of corporal in the KAR, is one of the few veterans who are alive from the world’s deadliest war.

“Many of my friends were killed, I feel so sad,” he said.

Shamte said when he joined the KAR, he did not know war tactics.

“I was trained with basic combat operation and taken to the front line,” he said.

Although African soldiers seemed inferior to white soldiers, Shamte said they played an important role.

Laurent Mihayo, 99, is a veteran currently living in a dusty Kanyenye neighborhood in Tabora with his grandchildren.

He said he joined the army in 1941 at the age of 20.

“I worked as a laborer to help the medical team to attend to injured soldiers,” he said.

Mihayo said he was flown to fight in the Eritrean jungle.

“Some of us died there and their remains were never returned.”

The British used propaganda to recruit Africans, such as telling villagers the Germans were plotting to take their land.

During the war, approximately 92,000 soldiers were recruited by the KAR from Tanganyika.

Shamte said although those who returned brought a sense of pride and nationhood, their sacrifice is not honored.

Memories are more than 75 years old: cooking vegetables and rice, cleaning uniforms and shining shoes for senior officers.

Mihayo is proud of his service, even though his memories are mixed.

He said as a Black man fighting for the white man, he could not escape the racism, hostility and discrimination in the line of fire.

“I was harshly treated even though we fought the same enemy,” he said.

Raised in Kanyenye, Mihayo came from a family of nine children. He drew a cooking lesson from his mother, which helped him to cook and serve food to a few white officers.

The father of six children, 12 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren, Mihayo had for many years worked as a carpenter before he retired in the 1970s. For years he avoided discussing his war experiences.

Mihayo’s daughter, Kidawa, who takes care of him, said the first time she started hearing stories was five years ago.

“I had both good and bad experiences, none of which I wanted to share,” he said.

Mihayo said his military years helped him to eat right and stay healthy.

“I never tasted alcohol in my life, that is probably the secret of my long life,” he said.

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