8. The Early Years – Charles Meek

Charles (‘Kim’) Meek entered service in Tanganyika as a District Officer in 1941. By 1959 he had risen to become Permanent Secretary in the office of the Chief Secretary and from 1960 to 1962 he served as Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister (Nyerere) and Secretary to the Cabinet.

In September 1960, I was standing on the steps of an office block on the Dar es Salaam seafront, waiting to welcome the new Chief Minister to office. It perhaps seemed rather unlikely that we would get on well together. The TANU leadership had had their own preferred candidate to head the civil service and, when my appointment was mooted, three of them had waited on the Governor to press the claims of their man against mine. Luckily they were dismissed with a flea in the ear, or I would have missed the job of a lifetime, but it would be understandable if Julius felt resentful that I had been thrust upon him. As for me, I had my full share of prejudices against the nationalist tide that was pushing us aside so abruptly. Still, I had admired my new master’s style in the Legislative Council; and a couple of years earlier, when we were not supposed to ‘fraternise’, I had gone out to some of his huge rallies on the old aerodrome and sat on the ground amidst the African crowd, and been deeply impressed by his logical thought and the power of his oratory.

If these doubts and reservations really existed, they did not survive the first handshake. From the very start our brief partnership of fifteen months was one of complete mutual trust. Trust was badly needed too, for this was by no means the sort of relationship that subsists in the United Kingdom between a Minister and his chief official adviser. I was certainly the Chief Minister’s man, but I also had my loyalty to the Crown in the person of the Governor and towards all my British colleagues in what was bound to be a very difficult time. Julius understood this perfectly well and appreciated that I had other lines of communication to use, but one or two of his colleagues were much more suspicious. What had I been talking about at Government House? What plots were being laid at my weekly meetings with the Permanent Secretaries (all British)? It was even put to me by one Minister that I was putting Julius at risk by failing to ensure that the Government aircraft were properly serviced. Since I used them frequently myself, this struck me as a bit far-fetched, but the tale illustrates how difficult some of the party leaders found it to throw off the spirit of struggle against the British colonialists. Not so their leader, for he had entire confidence that the system was now working for him, and one of his first duties, faithfully discharged, was to persuade his followers that this was the case and that authority must not be flouted unless they wanted to wreck their own African government.

Law and order, indeed, was an early and worrying preoccupation. Why pay taxes, now that our own TANU is in charge? What do these white DCs count for these days? Julius was soon touring the country, rubbing into the cheering crowd that black governments needed money at least as much as white ones, and that the law must be observed, whoever was in control. This campaign did a lot to assuage the fears of British civil servants in the field. All through these nervous times there was a lively apprehension that the lot would take their compensation and go at the moment of independence, the more so as political heads were being moved into districts and provinces alongside the white administrators who had been used to running their own shows for so long. Julius signed a personal letter to one and all to beseech their continued help into independence. The other side of that coin was the frantic effort to Africanise the civil service, the field where we had been so dilatory when independence appeared to lie years ahead. Crash courses, division of jobs, back-seat driving, lower standards, every sort of measure was crammed into the few months available, with a very fair measure of success.

There were difficulties too with Union leaders who looked on their movement as a parallel arm of government with the party. Julius put them in their place, and he trounced even more severely the black racists in his party who would have denied citizenship to browns and whites. This he did just before independence in what was by then the National Assembly in a speech of tremendous eloquence even by his standards, and he did it with such passion and sincerity, staking his government’s future on the result, that he overwhelmed the opposition. Then there was a climactic row about money when Britain, then undergoing one of its periodic bouts of financial crisis, proposed to cut its dowry of grants and loans, on which the new state proposed to found its development plans during its first three years. Here the part of the Prime Minister, as Julius by then had become, was to restrain himself and, more difficult, restrain his colleagues from public recrimination and a repudiation of Britain’s offer which even at that late stage would have poisoned irretrievably the whole atmosphere of peaceful transition. Here Sir Richard Turnbull’s powers of persuasion were the saving grace when he flew to London to argue with Ministers the consequences of rewarding peace and moderation in a niggardly way.

Then there was South Africa and its application to join the Commonweath Conference in March 1961. Into this issue was injected Julius’ famous article in the Observer arguing why ‘ … to vote South Africa in is to vote us out.’ Technically, Julius was acting outside his powers, since foreign affairs were in the hands of the Governor until independence. Realistically, on the other hand, it made sense to make it public that Tanganyika at least would not join the Commonwealth alongside South Africa, and no doubt other black African states would follow Tanganyika’s example. Julius was on a brief holiday when we got wind that this article was due to appear in a few days’ time and the Governor instructed me to don my other hat and go in pursuit of him to put the British Government case and try to persuade him to withdraw it. I flew off on this forlorn mission to the Mambo airstrip, where a car was waiting to take me up the mountain road to the Governor’s Lodge at the resort of Lushoto. This had been a favourite spot of Julius’ old antagonist, Governor Twining, and I felt his shadow in the heavily panelled room where Julius and I dined on our own that night. Needless to say, my arguments had not the slightest effect upon him. He had simply said what he absolutely believed, and it was right and important that he should give ample notice of what he intended. In the event, the article was a powerful factor in persuading South Africa to withdraw its application.

At the start of our association Julius was coming to office as Chief Minister with no inside knowledge of the machinery of government and, as some Society members have heard, he tells some hilariously embroidered stories of how in his early days I saved him from the grasp of the Taiwanese Chinese or wrote his first minute to the Governor. In fact, as every member would expect, his immense intelligence and acute political sense soon told him very exactly what was likely to work and what was too much to expect, and within days we were a team. He was very frank always about his political difficulties, which were considerable for he had some rough players in his team, from whom from time to time I had to seek to protect some of my colleagues, quite apart from my own blazing rows with his own Minister of State. We disagreed very rarely, and never painfully, because he always knew he was getting honest advice, and, where we did disagree, later events suggested that he was more often right than I. I forget the subjects of dispute now, but there was one where he knew I was in the right as well as I did, and this led to a bitter explosion – why was he dealing with this kind of issue, when he ought to resign and get back to the grass-roots and revivify the Party? I said conventional British things about how the whole country depended upon him. In his inimitable way, he wanted to know what a country was worth if it all depended on one man? It was the clue to his resignation within a month of independence.

Meanwhile, family friendship was born. When he became Prime Minister, Julius moved into the former Chief Secretary’s house, a hundred yards from us. Readers will have gathered that this was a very crowded time of unremitting work, and politics pursued Julius home at the end of long days. So he often came for refuge to us, for a drink and a scrambled egg for supper, and my wife became friends with Maria also, and sometimes by day his eldest boy would come with him and play snakes and ladders with our youngest. So to ‘uhuru’ itself and all the celebrations, and off I went for six weeks’ leave, and back we came to find Julius resigned, and off we shortly went for good. But whenever we meet him now, it is as though we had parted ten minutes before.

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