IN COMMUNICATION WITH ANNE CHAPPEL(NEE M.V.SMITHYMAN, PERMANENT SECRETARY TO THE PM, MOHAMED SHAMTE) - THE 1964 ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION
On your web site you say: “The new Government under Prime Minister Mohamed Shamte seemed confident and disdained Britain's offer of military assistance.”
In fact, my father said:
“Perhaps there should have been a defence agreement with the British Government but they refused. I was at a meeting some time before the revolution happened, with the Resident, Sir George Mooring. I had been made Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister. They had appointed a Shirazi as Prime Minister, a sensible thing. So I spoke to the new Prime Minister and said, "Now, you have got problems, there is a lot of tension, what you must do is go to the British Resident and say, "It is essential that you must have an agreement that Britain will come in and assist if there is any problem as happened before (during the first elections)"." So eventually we drafted a letter and I phoned up the Resident and he said, "Right! come up and we will discuss your letter". So up I went to see him. Mooring said "This is a very sensible thing, I am very pleased that you have got the PM to agree to this, it seems sensible to me and I am sending it off at once in code to London". So off it went and within a few days back came the answer, "Britain regrets". This is now independence, and independence is independence. “
So the new Zanzibar government had asked the British to continue with a defence agreement after independence in December 1963 (after all there was no army, just a Police force) but the British declined. What a mistake! I think that the British came to regret this – look how they rushed in and supported Julius Nyerere when the army mutinied in Feb 1964.
I am sending you a report that was recently sent to me – an American CIA declassified document about the causes of the revolution. I found this fascinating – that Okello was but a man of the moment and the instigators were others.
My father had always told me about the diary that they found in Babu’s possession – with plans for a revolution. But Dad said that they could not arrest Babu under British law as they did not have enough proof for what he was planning. So they knew that plans were afoot amongst his followers. Babu was highly suspected as he had had training overseas.
Your emails come as startling revelation. Also the CIA document is declassified and appearing even on Bargash’s website if I’m not mistaken. I’ve received Mike Lofchie’s email. He seems to know Mr. Smithyman very well and holds him in very high regard.
I was aware of Mike Lofchie’s book on Zanzibar and only a week ago had ordered it from Amazon. I will read it with interest. Mike has emailed me with his “thank-you” for my father – who had been kind and helpful to him in the early 60’s when he was a young Ph.D student visiting Zanzibar. I sent this on to my father and Dad was delighted to receive it. Even 43 years later those events are still of interest and sad reflection.
Do we have any testimony as to what happened at the ASP fete and meeting that night – which went on to the Dockworkers union Hall? And led to the excited mob (with some guns) being directed into arranged attacks on 3 stations and the radio station? It indicates some pre-planning. I gather that Okello was just the man of the moment in spite of what he said.
I found Don Patterson’s story intriguing. He writes “Fritz’s most reliable source that morning was M.V.Smithyman, Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office in the post independence Zanzibar. Until eight that morning Smithyman had worked from his office at the Beit el Ajaib, the largest government office building on the waterfront about one hundred yards south of the Sultan’s palace. Judging the situation increasingly unsafe, he left the Beit el Ajaib and swam out to the Salama. He had been communicating by telephone with government ministers, urging them to take refuge on the Salama, from where they could safely negotiate with the rebels. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Prime Minister Shamte refused, and his colleagues followed suit.”
Why did Shamte not heed to his advice?
When did your father come to know of the disquiet in the island? Imagine at 8 o’clock he was in his Beit el Ajaib office. I myself had learnt of the trouble in the morning when my brother who had gone to buy bread rushed back saying that there was disturbance in the town. Immediately we tuned in to BBC (it was 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock). The news of Revolution in Zanzibar made the headlines. Sauti Ya Unguja captured by the rebels was also on air. Weren’t the rebels around Beit el Ajaib or the Sultan’s palace? Strange they had not reached the Forodhani area at that time; a very strategic spot as far as Zanzibar was concerned. They had also no control of the port area, thus the Malindi Police Station staff could skip off shore as late as late evening and the Salama till then lying in Zanzibar waters.
It was very daring of your father to swim out to the Salama. Before swimming out he must have been in constant touch with Jamshed and intimated him that he was joining them. From which point did he swim? It must have been along Forodhani Mchanga/German. What was Jamshed’s reaction on board the ship? He must have been really distressed and regretful of the happenings and Government’s looseness in handling the island security. Who was counseling Jamshed on board the Salama? It could be your father.
Though he was Prime Minister Shamte’s Permanent Secretary I doubt if your father had affiliation with any particular party in Zanzibar. Why did he take such an abrupt step to leave the island? The British Government could have recognized the new Government and your father continued his job as a counsellor to President Karume. After all ASP had the majority following. Probably he feared the anarchical state of the island then. Where were you? If he was alone what happened to his belongings?
The story of what happened to Dad is somewhat different to that portrayed in the books. I have read Don Petterson’s book.
Firstly, I would like to ask dad if it is OK to tell his story, as it is his and being employed by the British Government, he might feel that he has obligations. I think that so much time has past that there will be no problem with this. I can say that in his position Dad would have had a responsibility and loyalty to the legally elected government. (I know that he was very concerned about the stories and evidence of revolt being planned – after independence). And of course, being a man of his time and background, he was strongly against communism. So the left wing was a great concern.
Our house was behind the High Court next to a piece of open ground. It was not far to Shangani point. Our small boat was offshore due to the fact that the monsoon was the NE.
My father woke me shortly after 3am and told me about the attacks on the police stations and told me to put on black clothes and go to the top of the house and watch for anyone coming into the garden. Meanwhile I heard him on the phone for ages. About an hour later he told me that my mother and I would go into the boat and wait offshore. I learnt that he was worried about mob attacks (thinking perhaps of the Mau mau in Kenya).
We could see people going by boat to the Salama. Eventually Dad came with our neighbour and immediately said that he had to go to the Salama. But the launch owner would not – he was frightened! Dad said “I am going to be with the government and the Sultan, that is my duty”.
My mother was distraught. Dad said that he would send a signal from the Salama to say it was safe for us to come aboard. So off Dad motored (with the smaller dingy) to the Salama and we saw him arrive. A little while later a flashing signal came – morse, from the Salama. But no one on the boat could read it! So my mother said it must be OK and we should go there but the launch owner said I cannot be sure, it might be dangerous and would not go. He had the control so he turned around and headed off to Tanga where we arrived next morning. On the way we passed HMS Owen which was steaming towards Zanzibar.
If the Prime Minister was aware of the happening at around 3 am then he had opportunity for action. Under circumstances it was reflecting the government’s weakness.
Mtoni and Ngambo fell after Ziwani. It seems Ziwani was not adequately guarded. Imagine just 300 men capturing it within no time and grabbing all the arms and ammunition. There could be not much ammunition and thus hand to hand fighting. From hearsay the rebels did not come with automatic rifles and machine guns but seized them from Ziwani.
I’m sure in comparison to today’s times security then was scanty and those in charge succumbed by sailing off or surrendering. Also the Kenya and Tanganyika governments turned their backs. Interesting that they could question the legality of the Zanzibar government? Strange!
It seems your dad did his level best. Yes, it was the ministers’ defeatist attitude that got them nowhere. On the contrary Jamshed was daring. And yours was quite an adventure. I must say you people were very brave. Probably you lost your belongings. You must come out with your book. It is bound to have a readership of most of us Zanzbaris.
One thing is definite that the British were skeptical of the Zanzibar Government and authorized no further action from your end. One fails to understand why in the first instance they had agreed to the independence knowing very well that ZNP/ZPPP despite more seats were much less in number than ASP. Imagine constituencies like Chani and some others were several times bigger in terms of number of votes than those which ZNP had grabbed. Doesn’t that seem unfair to ASP? Under circumstances British Government’s prime objective should have been ample security for the island.
I agree about some of the British being skeptical of the legitimate governemtn. Why I don’t know, they were fairly elected under the agreed rules by the all parties and the government. One comment I read was that the ASP should have won if they had been better organised.
What my father reminded me of was a story he has told me before. That he had tried to get the new government to consider offering some top government posts after the 1963 independence to the opposition - since the election had been so close and the ASP had in fact got more than 50% of the votes. He said it would be, in effect, a joint government. He said he had a meeting with Ali Muhsin, M.Shamte, Abed Karume and others and suggested this. But very quickly the subject of the existing flag of Zanzibar came up. The ASP said that the red flag of the Sultan would have to go. But the ZNP said no – the Sultan was still there and it would stay. Dad said that his proposal never got beyond that.
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