I have been back to Dar-es-Salaam for a very inspiring conference organized by my friends at the Goethe Institut about global cities and local identities where I met architects from South Africa, Uganda and Cameroon producing very interesting work which I might write about in this blog at a later stage. The intense second day with most of the paper presentations, was followed by a discussion involving some of the Tanzanian hot-shots with regards to housing and heritage conservation in the art deco historic city centre of Dar-es-Salaam. Kesogukewele Msita, chairman of the National Housing Corporation – the most important player on the property market in Dar – received many questions and points of critique, to which he responded knowing very little about heritage and conservation, and the fact that there has been work going on listing buildings with particular conservation value in the historic city centre. What he did mention, however, is that from what he knew, there had been one case of a request for a building being conserved since he took office in 2009 – coming from the Mozambican government and asking for the preservation of the office of FRELIMO, where the independece struggle was planned.
I noticed the FRELIMO office driving from the airport. It is located in a main street leading through the city centre, where all the buildings are painted the characteristic pink of the National Housing Corporation. The ground floor covered in laquered dark wood panelling and wall to wall carpet, of the building constructed in the 1950s, now has an empty reception area and a lawyers office where I meet Paul Magese, who is an apprentice there and who shows me around. Two offices are locked, because they still belong to FRELIMO, contain their property and are being used when the party come to hold meetings in the old headquarters, Paul explains. Above are normal housing units – coveted by anyone who can get their hands on them in the terribly expensive rental market in Dar-es-Salaam, where NHC runs a parallel rental market at a fraction of the price, with all the privileges and problems this leads to.
Not far from the FRELIMO office, we turn in towards the historic city centre again, where Samora Avenue is one of the main streets, which before the destruction of the old shop houses by new skyscrapers, was a major shopping street. Already arriving with the taxi from the airport, I talk to the taxi driver about what a hero Samora Machel was, and how he remembers when he died and it was a special moment in Tanzania. “They were all here, the ANC, FRELIMO, the Zambians and the Zimbabweans”, he says proudly, emphasizing how the histories of the neighbouring countries are closely linked. At the already mentioned debate at the Goethe Institute I talk to Walter Bgoya, publisher, intellectual and expert moderator of the debate. He is friends with the politicians who were fighting for independence in Mozambique and flew to the independence ceremony in Maputo where he walked from the airport to the city centre among celebrating crowds; an unforgettable moment.
In the LAM inflight magazine the current issue is devoted almost exclusively to Mozambican writers remembering Samora and what he meant for them, in this 25th year since his death. The heritage of the father of the nation, greatly loved by the people, has received new monuments all over Mozambique this year. The next day is a national holiday to remember Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. The link to the discussion of building conservation is interesting. What is really important for local identity in the city?