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 People of Poor Countries Have Courage—Notes on building the Tanzam Railway

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Report From Lusaka
People of Poor Countries Have Courage

—Notes on building the Tanzam Railway

Source: Peking Review, No. 31, July 30, 1976
Transcribed by www.wengewang.org


    COMPLETED and now commissioned, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway stretches over the East African Plateau and runs across the Great Rift Valley to link East Africa with the central southern part of the continent-Unity and co-operation between the people of Tanzania and Zambia, who relied mainly on their own strength and not on the imperialists, have turned the building of this railway into a reality. Their joint effort is a demonstration of the courage of the people of poor countries; it deflates the arrogance of the imperialists.

Determined to Build the Railway

  Railways of a sort had been built by the colonialists in these two countries for no other purposes than to batten on the people and plunder their natural resources and wealth. Irrationally located, these few paltry railways fell far short of the needs of development in the two countries after their independence. What is more, landlocked Zambia, whose rail links were limited to the southern African network, had to trans-ship its copper and other exports as well as its imports through racist Rhodesia. As a result, it was subjected to all kinds of obstruction from the Smith racist regime and was often threatened with the closing of the border and the cutting of this trade outlet.
  The people of Tanzania and Zambia have long dreamt of building a railway to connect Zambia with Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. This would promote development of their national economies, get rid of imperialist and colonialist control and smash the racist blockade.
     The imperialist countries and the social-imperialists refused to help the two countries build the railway. But Tanzania and Zambia are nations of great courage. Even though "aid'' was withheld by the imperialists, they resolutely decided to go ahead with the project. In 1965, President Nyerere of Tanzania visited China and was followed in 1967 by President Kaunda of Zambia. They both met with Chairman Mao Tsetung. Eventually n decision was taken to build the railway by joint efforts, and in September 1967 an agreement to this end was signed by the Governments of Tanzania, Zambia and China.
  The imperialists were infuriated by the decision of the Governments of Tanzania and Zambia. The whole project is a "fanciful illusion," they scoffed, "the railway is easier to dream about than build." "Wait and see" what a big fiasco it is going to be, they sneered.
     But the people of Tanzania and Zambia were not to be deflected. They were itching to get started. They proclaimed in ringing words: "We will build the railway!"

Laying the Roadbed

     Construction began in October 1970. Thousands upon thousands of workers proudly trekked to the 502-kilometre section of the projected railway between Dar-es-Salaam and Mlimba. The area over which the line would run was mainly wilderness with few traces of human life where grass grew taller than man and dense brambles entwined with shrubs. There was also a hundred miles of primeval tropical forests forming a murky, impassable jungle.
     Undaunted by the enemies' jeers and impossible terrain, the industrious and courageous Tanzanian and Zambian workers went into action. Axes and machetes in hand, they chopped down trees and hacked away grass and used such as came in handy for building grass huts. Boulders were arranged into simple fireplaces over which they did their cooking. The heat was suffocating, but they came to grips with the wilderness and began building the railway.
     In the dry season, the quarry workers toiled in temperatures over 40 degrees centigrade. Above them the sun beat down mercilessly while their feet were seared by the scorching rocks. When their feet could no longer endure the burning rocks beneath them, the workers filled their boots with water and carried on doggedly though their feet soon became swollen. Water was precious in such sweltering weather. But in one 100-kilometre section of the railway, the streams had dried up and underground water was nowhere to be found. The workers had to send trucks out to fetch water from streams miles and miles away. For days on end they were reduced to a ration of one cup of drinking water a day. Water for washing and bathing was out of the question. Many became afflicted with heat rashes and had big boils on their heads. Sweat bleached their dark-grey work clothes. But no one complained.
  In the rainy season, torrential rains just poured and poured. Paths were washed away, makeshift bridges destroyed and telegraph poles brought down. Rains of this intensity often hindered their work and made life almost unbearable. At one stage, over a thousand workers were stranded on a worksite with food, fuel, building materials running very low. They refused to give in before hardships and difficulties and worked throughout the rainy season. They built small bridge culverts when the weather did not permit them to work on the roadbed; they collected stones and dug sand when pouring reinforced concrete was impossible; they built new roads when old ones were destroyed by rain. When their vegetable plots were washed away and they had no greens for their meals, they made do with rice in salted water and dried chilli.
  With their bulldozers, the roadbuilders blazed the way, knocking down tall trees, tearing away the thick grass and building up the roadbed so that the big track-laying machines rolling close on their heels could lay out the steel rails quickly and push deep into the jungle.

Overcoming the Great Rift Valley

  The 155-kilometre section from Mlimba to Makum-bako passes through the Great Rift Valley area, where hills, tangled waterways, impassable swamps are a complete mess. The imperialists had thought that such atrocious terrain would halt the advance of the roadbuilders. But the workers and technicians rose to the challenge and fiercely tackled this perplexing section.
  Finding it impossible to clear the swamps with machines, the workers jumped in and tried to clear them with spades. They soon found that as quickly as they dug out the mud, it would ooze back in again. They tried to prevent this by driving wooden stakes and steel frames, but sometimes the slimy mud immediately pushed them down and bent them. The workers' fortitude was unshaken and with infinite wisdom, they thought out many ways to overcome this. They filled the swamps with sand, branches of trees, rocks and stones and finally brought over a hundred such swamps under control.
  Tunnelling in this section was even more difficult. Most of the 18 tunnels in the Mlimba-Makumbako section were constructed through brittle stone. Some had to pass through a stratum of alluvial soil saturated with underground water. The pneumatic drill operators had to work for days in muddy water. As soon as tunnel-blasting was ever, the workers rushed in to work, heedless of the choking smoke. At times they fainted from the suffocating smoke. But as soon as they came to, they were back at their job.

The Awakened People

     At midnight on March 24, 1972, mountain torrents rushed down a gully outside Mlimba Tunnel No. 1. Andongweshi, a young Tanzanian worker, and his two Chinese workmates who had just gone off-duty ran quickly to the dormitories to wake their fellow workers and salvage equipment and materials. Veteran Tanzanian worker Anochiche waded through one-metre-deep water to rescue grain from the kitchen-store. The storm continued to rage and the flood waters rose waist deep. Anochiche was in danger of being swept away. Andongweshi, anxious for Anochiche's safety, went to his rescue. At that moment, a wave over three metres high came rushing down on them. Anochiche and 20-year-old Andongweshi laid down their precious lives for the Uhuru (Freedom) Railway.
  When asked whence came the courage of these dauntless roadbuilders who are fearless of death, the Tanzanian and Zambian workers make the same proud reply: No difficulty on earth is insurmountable. We are filled with strength to build our countries. The only-way for the poor countries to stand up is to work hard, by their own efforts and their own hands. No use praying to god, or asking imperialists for charity.
     Twice seriously injured, young Chinese worker Ho Wu-lun said: "I am not afraid of losing bone and flesh, I am willing to give my youth for Africa. We are willing to suffer more hardships for the well-being of the African people."
       To defend their national independence, to oppose imperialist and hegemonic control and to work for the common interest of the third world peoples, the awakened people know what they must do. Awakening generates courage, wisdom and great strength.
     The builders had the great support of the Tanzanian and Zambian peoples during construction of the railway. Once the Second Engineering Team was in need of sand, which had to be transported from Kangolo, 100 kilometres away, and it was impossible to meet this demand in time. When the nearby villagers heard of this, they all went searching for new sources of sand. Some walked miles to show the builders a sample. Others came from more distant places on bicycles to bring sample bags of sand. Groups of school children visited the construction site on Sundays to report their "new discovery." Once some roadbuilders got lost in the mountains when they were searching for sand. Two boy cowherds volunteered to lead them on to the correct road. Later assisted by Zambian peasants, the builders found an ideal source of sand. A bulldozer which was sent there to work the sand was voluntarily guarded every night by a Zambian peasant armed with a spear who built himself a bonfire near the bulldozer.

Militant Friendship

     During the years of hard struggle in building the railway, the builders of the three countries have forged a deep friendship as they cared for each other, learnt from each other and worked together. They worked the same drill in tunnelling, and drove the same earth-moving machines. Together they have sweated under the burning sun and together, they become covered with mud as they braved the rain and wind.
     The Chinese workers will never forget the profound friendship extended to them by the Tanzanian and Zambian peoples.
     Once, a Chinese welder's eyes were injured by the glare of an electric welding arc. His eyes could not stand strong light and the pain was acute. As he was worrying that he might not be able to do his job, a Zambian worker, Saidi, gave him a bottle of fresh milk to bathe his eyes. The welder was surprised to get this fresh milk in this vast wasteland. It turned out that when Saidi's wife had heard that milk was good for bathing eyes injured by an electric arc, she gave her own milk to the Chinese friend. The Chinese worker was moved, He wanted to say many words of thanks. but all he could blurt out was, "Rafik, rafik" ("friends, friends" in Swahili).

On November 24, 1971, a Chinese worker, Yang Yung-fu, who was in charge of the work of .clearing away the stone ballast in the top sector of Tunnel No. 2, fell into a funnel dug out to discharge waste rubble into wagons on a lower level. Seeing this, Tanzanian worker Aloisi Mhinga dashed at once into the tunnel. He saw Yang's head wedged between two descending stone blocks with one of his legs poking out of a mass of rubble inside the funnel — the other leg was apparently trapped in the rubble.   The stone blocks might crash down at any moment and Yang's head be crushed. Mhinga bravely jumped up on to a wagon and tried to stop the two stones from falling with his two arms. Many Chinese, Tanzanian and Zambian workers rushed to the scene to help rescue Yang.  They tried to clear his body by removing rubble from the top of the funnel. Some fragmented stones slipped and dropped on Mhinga, causing him intense pain in the head and body. The workers finally succeeded in removing one of the stone blocks, but this caused the other one to press still more heavily on Mhinga. Mhinga clenched his teeth and, with all his strength, continued to prop up the stone. Injured and bleeding, his arms began to tremble and beads of perspiration coursed down his face. He had no other thought on his mind but this one idea — I must hold out to my last ounce of strength and save our Chinese friend!
     At long last Yang was freed, and only then did Mhinga release his hold on the stone block, which thudded to the ground. Three strong lads were unable to clear it away.
  At the turn of the 20th century, when railways were first built in Tanzania and other African countries, the colonialists tricked thousands of Chinese workers into migrating there to toil as roadbuilders. The Chinese and local workers worked together at the point of the bayonet and the lash of the whip of the colonialists. Again and again they united and rose in resistance to colonialist oppression and slavery.
  Today, the independence and freedom of Tanzania, Zambia and China are still exposed to threats of aggression and expansion by imperialist superpowers. Tanzanian and Zambian friends crystallize the situation: There can be no genuine and complete independence for their two peoples without the liberation of the whole of Africa. The Chinese people, on their part, know full well that they cannot achieve final liberation without the liberation of the people of the whole world.
  Their common destiny, their common struggle for the achievement of their common goal, have helped to forge a profound friendship among the heroic road-builders and the people of the three countries.

(Hsinhua Correspondents)

  
  
  

 
 
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