14. University Visitor Extraordinary – Reg Honeybone

Professor Honeybone served as Professor of Education at University College, Dar es Salaam between 1963 and 1968. From 1964 to 1968 he was also Vice-Principal. After service in the University of the South Pacific he became Professor of Education in Developing Countries in the Institute of Education, University of London, in 1973 until his retirement in 1978.

Most, perhaps all, of the staff appointed to the University College of Dar es Salaam in the early 1960s were attracted to apply for their posts by the clear and consistent statements made by Julius Nyerere concerning the type of society he hoped to see developing in the newly independent Tanganyika. They accepted and applauded his emphasis on human equality and freedom, freedom from discrimination, freedom from hunger and freedom from ignorance and disease. This emphasis and his subsequent more specific references to the University College, then a part of the University of East Africa, echoed a similar line of thinking. His belief that a free and independent university was an essential element in the preparation of the high level manpower needed for the overall development of the country and his insistence on objective thinking as a basis for national development were concepts readily acceptable to academics trained and accustomed to question their premises with intellectual rigour and objectivity.

This similarity of outlook helped to develop an encouraging rapport between the College staff and the President. The staff, both local and expatriate, accepted that a country such as Tanganyika should not, and could not, afford to maintain a university unless it developed into a ‘committed institution’, committed in general to the task of helping to improve the quality of life of the people of Tanganyika and committed in particular to educating men and women capable of taking leading positions in the process of national development. These men and women would need highly trained minds, a disciplined knowledge of the contemporary world with special reference to East Africa and a maturity of outlook which would enable them to accept the heavy responsibilities of service to a new nation.

It had not escaped the notice of the President, nor that of the College staff, that the beginning of the decade of the 1960s was already showing signs in the western world and in some African countries of growing student protest and unrest. His reaction to potential student problems was far sighted and initially based on moral issues. He frequently reminded the secondary school pupils and the university students that their education was being paid for by people usually much poorer than themselves and that their privileged educational position carried with it heavy responsibilities to the whole nation. In characteristic vein, he compared the then annual per capita income in Tanganyika of £19-6s with the annual cost of about £1,000 of maintaining a university student; and in stronger terms in his preamble to the First Five Year Plan he stated, ‘ … if any of the young men and women who are given education by the people of this Republic adopt attitudes of superiority, or fail to use their knowledge to help the development of this country, then they are betraying our Union.’

The President’s views on the aspirations of the young people were not only strongly and unequivocally expressed, but were deeply held. I recall when the Principal, Cranford Pratt, and I were invited to State House in the very early days of the College for an informal discussion on the concern felt by some Ministers at the rudeness shown to them on various formal visits to secondary schools. Clearly he was demonstrating his own concern at these incidents as examples of ‘attitudes of superiority’, but he was also seeking our views on the state of student opinion in the College and assuring us of his full support in the event of troubles on the campus. In fact staff-student relationships were very close and cordial and were helped in an ironical way at the time of the army mutiny in 1964, when the staff helped to feed and shelter the law students when they were evacuated from their temporary quarters in the TANU building in Dar es Salaam.

In fact this informal discussion at State House, the loan of the TANU building while the permanent College campus was being built on what became known as University Hill and the standing ovation given to the President by a largely university audience at his first public appearance after the meeting all illustrate the close personal contact he had established with the College leaders. This close personal contact had much to do with the development of a cooperative working relationship with ministers and senior civil servants, a relationship marked by mutual respect for independent views and understanding of the aspirations of a newly independent state. There were no directives to the College from the President, or the government ministers. The College was left free to develop its own administrative arrangements and to plan its academic programmes on the twin bases of academic excellence and relevance to East Africa, internally and externally. Probably no other university college in Africa had been founded with a closer agreement on fundamental principles between government and university personnel.

But Julius Nyerere’s influence on the development of the University College went far beyond his sphere as President of Tanganyika (later Tanzania). It proved to be a happy chance that included in the University College (Dar es Salaam) Act 1963 was a rather odd position of Visitor. The duties of the Visitor were not defined, but the person appointed had the right to visit the College whenever he chose and, fortunately, Julius Nyerere when appointed officially as the Visitor chose to visit frequently. He attended the formal occasions at the College, such as the official opening of the College campus on 21st August 1964, and the graduation ceremonies and publicly reaffirmed his support for the College in a series of thought provoking speeches. But it was his more private and initimate visits that provided an opportunity for staff and students to raise questions directly with him and to discuss university and national affairs.

These were splendid occasions. The Visitor would arrive in his usual quiet manner, greet the students most cordially and often open the discussion by some informal remark such as, ‘Well, what do you want to talk about today?’ And the students talked! They talked about politics and the state of the national economy, they asked about the Union with Zanzibar and they quizzed the Visitor about their future job prospects. In fact, such was the air of informality and the good humour generated during the visits that the students felt free to raise any relevant topics that came into their minds and the Visitor did not avoid answering their questions forthrightly, or hesitate to reveal the appallingly difficult decisions which had to be made in establishing practical priorities from the manifold needs of a newly independent country. This was university education at its best, with its intellectual cut and thrust, informed debate and a meeting of eager and rapidly developing minds with the experience and wisdom of a great humanitarian.

But there is one other major happening to which I must refer, which did not occur on any visit to University Hill. The President was well aware from his close contacts with the College that many students were giving of their spare time to help their less fortunate countrymen. Many students were organising and teaching literacy classes for workers on the College campus and the people living in the nearby villages. Others were helping to build a primary school for the local children and others were supporting a blood donor scheme. All these and similar projects were in line with his hopes that students would develop a sense of service for the community as a whole. But not all students were ready to serve and on 22nd October 1966 a minority behaved very irresponsibly on the way to and during a meeting arranged at State House to discuss the introduction of national service. As a result, all the 393 students present at State House, including 320 from the College, were sent home by the President for an indefinite period. In the eyes of most Tanzanians and expatriates these students had adopted ‘attitudes of superiority’, had betrayed the nation and deserved to be punished. But some members of staff, including myself, felt that it was unfair to punish all the students, many of whom had already shown their maturity and readiness to serve and had gone to State House to listen to the President as they had been accustomed to listen to him as Visitor at the College. In no way did we seek to excuse the unruly and extremely hostile behaviour of the ringleaders. It fell to me to call on the President with the Chairman of the College Council and the Principal to review the original incident and its aftermath. It was a long, sober and honest discussion. I came away with very mixed feelings, disappointment that the President had not agreed to let any students return yet, admiration for this honesty in agreeing that he had been unfair to many students, sympathy for him in his anguish at having to stand by his decision for the sake of the future of the nation, knowing that this meant punishing innocent people, and a sense of reassurance in his sympathetic understanding and continued support for the work of the College.

Most of the students sent away in October 1966 were allowed to return to the College at the start of the next academic year in July 1967. The President had made his point. His support was undiminished. The Visitor could resume his visits.

‘Some of our citizens still have large amounts of money spent on their education, while others have none, Those who receive this privilege therefore have a duty to repay the sacrifice which others have made. They are like the man who has been given all the food available in a starving village in order that he may have strength to bring supplies back from a distant place. If he takes this food and does not bring help to his brothers he is a traitor, Similarly, if any of the young men and women who are given education by the people of this Republic adopt attitudes of superiority, or fail to use their knowledge to help the development of this country, then they are betraying our Union’
Julius Nyerere, 12th May 1964

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.