Julius Nyerere’s trusted aide Li Jinglan dies seeking justice for 19 years

Li Jinlan during an interview with The Citizen in 2018 in Dar es Salaam. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Ms Li or Mama Li, as she was known, died on August 5 at Rabininsia Memorial Hospital, where she was recuperating after suffering a stroke.
  • She fought in vain to have the NHC and a court broker, Manyoni Auctioneers, pay her though she had won judgments against them three times.

  • The elderly woman, who was of Chinese descent, was a naturalised Tanzanian citizen. The same court that awarded her TSh1 billion blocked the enforcement of the order more than 20 times.

  • Her death saddened many who knew her, particularly when they recalled the suffering she endured in the corridors of justice and government offices as she fought to enforce the court order.

A former interpreter for Tanzania’s founding father Julius Nyerere who was embroiled in a long legal battle with two entities over a financial award for illegal eviction has died.

Li Jinglan, 75, died at a Dar es Salaam hospital after enduring 19 years of agony and frustrations.

She struggled for years to enforce a TSh1 billion court award after winning a case against the Tanzania National Housing Corporation (NHC) and a court broker for illegal eviction from a flat.

Ms Li or Mama Li, as she was known, died on August 5 at Rabininsia Memorial Hospital, where she was recuperating after suffering a stroke.

She fought in vain to have the NHC and a court broker, Manyoni Auctioneers, pay her though she had won judgments against them three times.

The elderly woman, who was of Chinese descent, was a naturalised Tanzanian citizen. The same court that awarded her TSh1 billion blocked the enforcement of the order more than 20 times.

Her death saddened many who knew her, particularly when they recalled the suffering she endured in the corridors of justice and government offices as she fought to enforce the court order.

Who was Mama Li?

Mama Li was among 100 Chinese nationals brought to Tanzania in 1975 to offer their expertise during the building of the Tanzania-Zambia railway (Tazara) project.

She left her months-old baby boy back in China to join fellow citizens who came to work in Tanzania.

At the time, Mama Li was already an expert in the Kiswahili language, working as a producer of Kiswahili programmes for Radio Beijing.

After arriving in Tanzania, she was taken to Mbeya as an interpreter for Chinese nationals who were teaching Tanzanians how to drive trains. She also helped train locals on effective management of train stations.

She lived in Mbeya for over one year before being transferred to Dar es Salaam for another Chinese government project initiated after the completion of Tazara.

She returned to Mbeya a few years later, this time to work on an iron ore research project in Chunya District managed by the State Mining Corporation (Stamico) in collaboration with the Chinese government.

“Truly speaking, when I came to Tanzania I was in deep feelings of separating with my child, who had not even reached one year, but I had to leave Beijing because I was picked to come to work for a Chinese project aimed at supporting development programmes in poor countries,” she to The Citizen in 2018.

After living in Tanzania for over 46 years, Mama Li, who also worked for former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi as an interpreter, saw her life ending in agony and great pain.

Tribulations

Her tribulations started on September 23, 2003 after the NHC served her with a notice to vacate its flat on Haile Selassie Road, Oyster Bay, Dar es Salaam.

The NHC accused her of denying other tenants access to a commercial wing of the building, damaging a septic tank and preventing the agency from entering the compound.

After weeks of trying to settle the dispute amicably proved futile, Mama Li resorted to court to challenge the notice to evict her from the house and rent it to a Swedish national.

On May 9, 2006, she left her home for Aga Khan Hospital to get an X-ray taken of her forearm, which was injured when she fell.

While she was in hospital, an NHC official, using Manyoni Auctioneers, came unannounced, broke open her doors and took out all her belongings.

This turned her life upside down. She started spending most of her time in the corridors of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and other government offices in a desperate search for help.

Her formidable fight for her rights finally paid off on April 27, 2012, when Judge Atuganile Ngwala of the High Court (Land Division) declared her the lawful tenant of the house she was evicted from.

The judge also ordered the NHC and Manyoni Auctioneers to pay her $177,000 (about TSh407 million) and TSh70 million in general damages and several other reliefs.

For more than 10 years after she won the case, Mama Li struggled to have the court decision enforced.

At the time she died, the dispute was still pending in the Court of Appeal, having passed through the hands of 51 judges – 10 from the High Court and 41 from the Court of Appeal.

Broken Record 

Mama Li once told The Citizen: “I know my case has broken the record of being a case that has been heard by many judges in the world.”

Despite triumphing against the NHC and Manyoni Auctioneers, the public corporation convinced the High Court to stay the execution of the court order 20 times since 2012.

The fight with the NHC left her broke year after year and she started depending on support from friends and her son in the UK.

Mama Li made her name in Tanzania as a woman of courage who was not ready to be oppressed or to see others oppressed but who also remained humble.

She liked to travel on the popular passenger transporters called daladala. “She didn’t hesitate to scold a daladala conductor whenever she saw them preventing school children from boarding the buses,” said a mourner.

The body of Mama Li, who died of heart attack, was cremated at the Hindu Crematorium at Makumbusho as her son, friends and lawyers who represented her in court witnessed.

Though it was not a huge turnout, it became clear that the few who showed up to pay their last respects were deeply touched by her humility and the agony she went through over the years.

Her son said: “Mama Li came to this country over 40 years ago. She loved this country. She had a good time but she also suffered a lot in the last three years. Thank you so much for giving her a helping hand during her suffering.”

Delayed Justice

Rugemeleza Nshalla, a long-serving lawyer, said at the farewell ceremony that Mama Li’s suffering was a wake-up call for the judiciary on timely justice.

“What we are told by Article 13 (1) A is that we are all equal before the law … “The government seems to be above the law. We cannot continue this way in this country where court decisions become unenforceable when they are not in favour of the government,” he said.

“Mama Li almost exhausted all the court system and she triumphed many times against the NHC. She fought formidably, she was a woman of courage, a woman of strength, a woman who knew to pursue her rights without fear of anyone.”

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