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Morogoro, Tanzania's Secret Revelation

With the final ceremony of the passing of Nelson Mandela now behind us, the transformation of the great statesman and humanitarian from man to legend will gather momentum, and rightfully so. When the physical presence of someone of Madiba’s stature is no more, attention shifts to the geographical places where that person was born, lived and died, as well as the places where some of his or her most epic feats were accomplished. In Mandela’s case this process has already begun, and thousands of tourists visit his house in Vilikazi Street, Soweto and his cell on Robben Island every year, and the village of Qunu where he grew up and is buried has joined that group of illustrious sites that honour his memory. There are other lesser known, but hugely significant, places on this earth that have felt the presence of arguably the world’s greatest statesman, and a month ago I was privileged enough to visit one of them.

On a wall in the Solomon Mahlangu Nursery School in Morogoro, Tanzania there stands a mural featuring a white dove and the message “there shall be peace and friendship”, and beneath this a black child and white child hold each other’s hands while they wave the unmistakable black, green and yellow flag of the African National Congress. I was there to visit the school and plant a food garden, and like most white South Africans who had been educated under apartheid I had a very limited knowledge of the history of the ANC and the struggle to liberate South Africa. But there was no mistaking the colours on the mural and the message above it. The mural might as well have been a graffito saying “Mandela was here.”

Like a good historian I did my research, and like a good anthropologist I explored the location to discover more. Morogoro is a small, bustling city about a hundred miles inland from Dar es Salaam, nestled against the Uluguru Mountains that tower above the city in jagged green magnificence. In this spectacular setting the residents of Morogoro are in many ways an embodiment of the new Tanzania. Proudly Tanzanian and African, they are hardworking and innovative and live by strong codes of social justice and hospitality. In Morogoro, as is the case across Tanzania, a guest must always leave your care in better shape than they arrived in, which in our case meant leaving town with our vehicle overflowing with samosas, mandazis, vitumbua and a dozen bottles of Konyagi gin, thanks to our incredibly kind and generous hosts.

The warmth, dignity and generosity of the Tanzanian people must have deeply impressed Mandela when he visited the country in 1962, shortly before his arrest and imprisonment. As President Jikaya Kikwete mentioned at Madiba’s funeral this week, he left his boots behind, intending to return for them when his African tour was complete (he ended up only getting them back in 1995). Although I could find no evidence that the great man actually visited Morogoro during his visit, it was in Morogoro that the legacy of his time in Tanzania would live on. In 1969, with much of the senior leadership imprisoned and the movement in a certain amount of disarray, a new generation of South African freedom fighters convened in Morogoro to chart a new way forward. They included people like Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Alfred Nzo and Moses Mabhida, names now familiar to most South Africans. Without going into too much detail on a very fascinating but complex topic, it was at the Morogoro conference that the liberation movement finally and formally recognised the role that non-black South Africans were playing in the struggle, and acknowledged the role that people of all races, even the whites, would have to play in a post-apartheid South Africa. It was in Morogoro that the African National Congress, to a certain extent, turned its back on African nationalism. As a white South African, it was at the site of this educational complex at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains in far away Tanzania that the course that enabled the life and freedoms I enjoy today was charted. It is a humbling thought.

This chapter of Morogoro’s history is not commemorated in grandiose plaques or monuments – in a country where tourism is still all about wildlife, Kilimanjaro and beaches the idea that mzungu tourists would be interested in the history of the struggle against apartheid has not quite caught on yet. Hopefully that will change soon, but the Tanzanians are well aware of the role they played in the struggle and will gladly chat about it once you bring it up. In some ways the fact that Morogoro’s historical significance requires interaction with the locals to uncover is deeply appropriate. The city was founded by escaped slaves from Zanzibar in the nineteenth century, and the legacy of liberty lives on in the openness, dignity and pride of the people.

When the hustle and bustle of the city gets too much for you, the mountains beckon. The Ulugurus are part of Tanzania’s Eastern Arc mountain range, one of the world’s most pristine and unique ecosystems, and are draped in rainforest that plays host to many species found nowhere else on earth. It takes a demanding but rewarding seven hours to reach Lupanga Peak (2150m) but you don’t have to go all the way up. Look out for colobus monkeys and three-horned chameleons, while twitchers can look out for three species endemic to the Ulugurus - the Uluguru Bush Shrike (Malaconotus alius), the Loveridge’s Sunbird (Cynnyris loveridgei) and the Uluguru Grey-throated Mountain Greenbul (Arizelocichla neumanni). There are several spectacular waterfalls, and many viewpoints from where you can look down on a city that in many ways embodies modern Tanzania – rewarding, prosperous, proudly African and free.

Details and other things to do in Morogoro:

The Solomon Mahlangu Nursery School is within the larger Solomon Mahlangu Campus, which is in turn one of the four campuses of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA). In addition to the historical angle the SUA is also famous as the headquarters of the HeroRats research programme, in which African Pouched Rats are trained to detect landmines and, more recently, tuberculosis. More information on the SUA is available at and you can find out more about the HeroRats (and even adopt one!) at If you would like to visit the Solomon Mahlangu Campus itself contact headmaster Moses Achimpota at

To arrange a Morogoro city tour, cultural experiences and excursions up the Ulugurus, contact Chilunga Cultural Tourism ( Chilunga is a registered charity that ensures all the proceeds from your visit go to supporting the sustainable livelihoods of the local communities, and they know the city and the mountains like nobody else. You can book your tours online, and they can also help you arrange accommodation in Morogoro.

Morogoro has a great atmosphere, which is shaped by the contrast of the old German colonial architecture and well-planned street layout with the chaotic but friendly informality of modern Tanzania. The climate is usually warm but a lot cooler than on the coast, so walking around the city is a pleasant and engaging experience. The Main Market has the best selection of fresh produce in Tanzania, the size and variety of fruits in particular is astounding. When you’ve had enough, head to the Rumbo White Bar (any taxi will know where it is) for the best nyama choma (grilled meat) and Chips Mayai (chip omelette) in town, washed down with Kilimanjaro beer or, if you’re feeling frisky, local Konyagi gin. Watch the football and laugh with the locals well into the night.

About an hours’ drive southwest is the Mikumi National Park, where you can get the Big Five wildlife experience without the hassle, crowding and exorbitant prices of the Serengeti. A little further down the road is the more remote and challenging but hugely rewarding Udzungwa Mountains National Park, one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots. For more information on these and other parks in the region check out the TanParks website

Getting there:

Morogoro does not have a commercial airport, but good quality bus links from Dar es Salaam are available for about $5. Sandinavia Express and Sumatra are the most reputable and reliable companies, and the journey takes about two hours. A number of airlines offer flights into Dar es Salaam from all over the world.

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