Racism in Kilombero?


Since this is my last few weeks in Africa, I decided to put in as many short trips in it as I possibly could. First stop was Kilombero which is the Southern Tanzanian version of the Great Rift Valley of the North. Which means there are untouched rivers, rain-forests and giraffes cross the street cause … well why not? They own this place.

Some decades ago, the South Africans found out how fertile this area was and shooed away the elephant herds and start building a sugar factor that would be eventually surrounded by sugarcane plantations. It’s a comfortable setup but really unnerving cause it was like walking right into the apartheid era.

The white South African side of the centre (Yes, they had their own side) has a massive and well maintained Golf Course, a bar and restaurant with pool tables and foosball and high-def TVs, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a spectacular view of the Udzungwa mountains and their legendary waterfalls.

Walk for five minutes and you reach a heavily guarded gate, complete with barbed wire running for miles on either side. Walk across and you reach the African side of the centre – not so well maintained, mud roads, open drains, makeshift houses with no ventilation … well, you get the picture.

The Bar in the South African side of the fence obviously cannot deny the entry of the locals – such an open display of racism would cause quite a scandal. So it has two huge rooms – the South African and the volunteer’s side and then the African side.

My friends were teaching at the schools in the African side of the fence – a hastily constructed school with no lights, no ventilation, and no furniture – obviously a quick response to the “Corporate Social Responsibility” bane. It was heartbreaking and appalling and scarred me in ways that I didn’t think possible. But mostly it left me angry.

There is a lot of racism in this country – Mzungu (Foreigner/European) is yelled at any supposedly “white” person from bus stands and from children across the road and Mwarabu (Arab) from the workers at the sugar factory (directed at me, of course). Both obviously have really negative connotations and are otherwise used as insults in bar fights. But being in Kilombero made me realise that it is because they don’t know any better.

It is normal to refer to a person by his tribe and his race. Children see their parents and teachers do it and in this place, the Mzungus across the border do it. So there can’t really be anything wrong with it. Can there?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been working at Kilombero for the last few months and this article is total bullshit. The area and bar you are referring to is for senior management of which over half is Tanzanian. Obviously the company isn’t going to provide every operator in the factory with the same quality house as a head of department but they are much better than the houses in the surrounding area. Also the schools that I have seen have electricity and furniture. So much of what you’ve written is nonsense here; “heavily guarded gate”? Think you mean one security guard with single pole for a barrier. Talk about exaggerating for effect…


    1. Anonymous says:

      Also, the set up of the larger houses round the club has been this way since when it was a Tanzanian owned company (the South Africans weren’t shooing away elephants by the time they got here) which incidentally had an appalling track record for safety at work. Thankfully that is very different today.


    2. cupitonians says:

      I have said it as I saw it at the time when I was there – which was in 2011. I don’t know how things have changed right now, I assume they have. But when I was there, there were separate sections for what seemed like white people and Tanzanian. I remember feeling out of place for being brown skinned in an entirely white occupied bar. When I was there, there were 4-5 men at the gate 3 or whom had guns (whether this gun was functional, I thankfully didn’t get to find out)


  2. Anonymous says:

    Also, the area with nicer houses around the club has been that way since back when the company was fully owned by the Tanzanian government (the South Africans weren’t shooing any elephants away when they arrived). Incidentally there was also a terrible track record for safety at work back in those days which has thankfully changed now.

    Liked by 1 person

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