by Ben Taylor
Graham Mercer was a teacher, writer and lover of Tanzania, a familiar figure to the thousands of students who passed through the International School of Tanganyika (IST), and to thousands more who read his books.
Born in St Helens in the north west of England during the Second World War, Graham attended the local Grammar School before embarking on a life-long education at “various campuses of the University of Life”, as he described it. This included time as a hotel scullery boy, post office clerk and nine years in the Royal Navy – which first took him to East Africa – before he settled into teaching. He taught first in a primary school in St Helens, for three years, before his passion for wildlife led him to Tanzania.
He began teaching at IST in 1977, where he taught for 34 years. Initially he taught elementary school classes, gradually moving towards science and information technology. This have him a front seat view as the school, the country and technology evolved. He became the school’s resident historian, publishing a book on the subject, A Very Special School, in 2010.
Indeed, writing had already become a major part of Graham’s life and work. He wrote sixteen books in all, including several tourist guidebooks on Tanzania, photobooks (some with Javed Jafferji) on various national parks, and his own memoirs. Most recently, in January of this year, he published Into the Eyes of Lions, about his experiences on safari in Tanzania over the decades. In 1988, his writing won the BBC Wildlife Magazine’s award for nature writers, and in 2016 he won the I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition.
Graham retired in 2012 and returned to the UK with his wife Anjum. Four years later he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. He refused to let this define him, however, and pressed on with his writing.
Rev Dr Gertrude Rwakatare MP was a prominent entrepreneur, a force to be reckoned with, whose interests took in education, religion and politics. She died on April 20th, 2020, at the age of 69, following a short illness.
In 1987, she founded St Mary’s school in Tabata, Dar es Salaam, meeting a demand for English-medium education among a growing middle class. This became the first of several schools in the St Mary’s chain, along with others in Morogoro, Mbeya, Dodoma and Mwanza. She later established a teachers’ college.
Rwakatare was more well-known, however as the founder (in 1995) and leader of Mikocheni B Assemblies of God church, one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Tanzania. In this role, she became a prominent figure in public life, inspiring blind devotion in her followers and scepticism and distrust from many others. She preached a severe morality, but somehow managed to become famous and (very) rich in the process.
President Kikwete appointed her as an MP in 2007, and she continued to serve as a CCM member of parliament until her death.
Human rights activist and prominent defender of the rights of people with albinism, Josephat Torner, died on April 12, 2020, at the age of 42, after being struck by a vehicle while crossing the road in Mwanza.
Torner, who himself had albinism, spent his life fighting to protect and empower those with the condition across Africa and beyond. He worked with documentary film maker Harry Freeland to make a documentary on albinism, In the Shadow of the Sun [see TA issue 125]. As part of this, Torner confronted a witchdoctor about the role of witchcraft beliefs and practices in the spate of violent attacks and murders of people with albinism in Tanzania.
Torner himself was the subject of such attacks: twice he survived attempts to take his life.
As a campaigner, he spoke out publicly against what he saw as the government’s failure to combat superstition and misconceptions surrounding albinism. He also fought to dispel such beliefs through his actions, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro twice, for example, to demonstrate that people with albinism can achieve if given the chance.