Nyerere’s trusted aide dies seeking justice for 19 years

Once an interpreter for the nation’s founding father, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, Li Jinglan, 75, died in a hospital in Dar es Salaam after enduring 19 years of agony and frustration.

Her legal battle to enforce a TSh1 billion court award after winning a case against the Tanzania National Housing Corporation (NHC) and a court broker following an illegal eviction from a flat she was living in is a classic reflection of the well-known legal maxim that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.

Li Jinglan, known as Mama Li, died on August 5, 2022 at Rabininsia Memorial Hospital where she was admitted for weeks after succumbing to a stroke.

She fought tremendously to get NHC and a court agent, Manyoni Auctioneers, to pay her in luck despite three wins against them.

Since 2003, the old woman naturalized from her Chinese nationality to that of Tanzania found herself in deep frustration when she witnessed the execution of the court decision in her favor blocked by the same court more than 20 time.

Her death saddened many who knew her, especially when they remember the suffering she endured in the halls of justice and government offices as she fought to enforce a lawful court order.

Mama Li, who made many friends in Tanzania, was among 100 Chinese nationals who were brought to Tanzania in 1975 to offer their expertise during the implementation of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara) project. .

His choice among the Chinese who were to come to Tanzania was sudden and unexpected. She was forced to separate from her baby boy of a few months to join her Chinese compatriots who came to Tanzania.

Li Jinlan (third from left) interpreting for Mwalimu Julius Nyerere the briefings given by Chinese experts when the head of state visited an iron ore exploration project in Chunya district, Mbeya region in 1977. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

When she was chosen, Mama Li was already a Kiswahili language expert, working as a Kiswahili program producer at Radio Beijing, China.

“When I arrived in Tanzania, I was taken to Mbeya as an interpreter for Chinese nationals who were teaching Tanzanians how to drive trains. It has also contributed to the training of inhabitants on the efficient management of stations.

She stayed in Mbeya for over a year before being transferred to Dar es Salaam to start working in another Chinese project run by the Chinese government in Tanzania following the completion of the Tazara project.

She returned to Mbeya a few years later, this time participating in the iron ore research project in Chunya district which was run by the State Mining Corporation (Stamico) in conjunction with the Chinese government.

“To tell the truth, when I arrived in Tanzania, I was in a deep sense of separation with my child who had not even reached a year, but I had to leave Beijing because I was chosen to come working for a Chinese project to support development programs in poor countries,” she said in an interview with The Citizen in 2018.

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

The tribulations in Mama Li’s life in Tanzania began on September 23, 2003 after the NHC served her with a notice to vacate her flat located at Haile Selasie Road, Oysterbay, Dar es Salaam.

NHC accused her of denying other tenants access to a commercial wing of the apartment and of damaging the septic tank and preventing NHC from accessing the compound.

After weeks of attempts to settle the dispute out of court which proved futile, the woman went to court to challenge the advice to evict her from the house and rent it to a Swedish national.

Unaware that this day was the beginning of a frustrating and painful life for the rest of her life, Mama Li left her home on May 9, 2006 for the Aga Khan Hospital for a forearm X-ray after falling and injured her arm.

While she was in the hospital, an NHC official, using a court officer, Manyoni Auctioneers, came unannounced, broke into her door and took out all of her belongings.

From that day on, her life became miserable. She spent most of her time in the halls of the High Court, Court of Appeal and other government offices desperately looking for a helping hand.

Her formidable fight for her right finally paid off on April 27, 2012 when Judge Atuganile Ngwala of the High Court (Land Division) granted her prayers and declared her still the legitimate tenant of the house from which she had been evicted.

The judge also ordered NHC and the legal intermediary to pay him $177,000 (approximately TShs. 407 million) plus TShs. 70 million in general damages and several other remedies.

Unenforceable court sentence

For more than a decade after winning the case, Mama Li had never lived to see the court’s decision carried out for reasons she once described as “dubious.”

Until his dying breath, the dispute between Mama Li and NHC was still pending before the Court of Appeal, having passed through the hands of 51 judges, including ten from the High Court and 41 others from the Court of Appeal.

During her lifetime, she once told The Citizen, “I know my case has broken the record of being a case that has been heard by many judges around the world.”

Despite being triumphant against NHC and the court intermediary, the public company has successfully convinced the High Court to stay the execution of the court order twenty times since 2012.

The fight with the NHC left her ruined year after year as support began to depend on friends and her son in the UK.

Mama Li made a name for herself in Tanzania as a woman of courage, who was not ready to be oppressed or to see other people being oppressed, while remaining humble.

She used to travel on popular public transport, daladala. “She didn’t hesitate to scold a daladala driver whenever she saw them preventing school children from getting on the buses,” said one of the mourners.

Tears as his body is cremated

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

Although the turnout was not huge, 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 for 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 him a hand during his suffering.

Long-serving barrister and high court barrister of Tanzania, Rugemeleza Nshalla said at the farewell ceremony that Mama Li’s suffering was a wake-up call for the judiciary to rethink justice in a timely manner.

“What Article 13 (1) A tells us that we are all equal before the law could sometimes be misleading. “The government seems to be above the law. We cannot continue like this in this country where court decisions become inapplicable when they are not in favor of the government.

“Mama Li has almost exhausted the entire legal system and she has repeatedly triumphed against the NHC. She fought tremendously, she was a woman of courage, a woman of strength, a woman who was able to assert her rights without fearing anyone,” said the lawyer.

Elna M. Lemons