On March 27, Kinondoni Regional Police Commander announced they had retrieved the body of Blandina Sembu in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam.
Eyewitnesses reported that a vehicle had stopped for a few minutes before her body was dumped in front of a bar then it sped off. Police told the public that they were investigating the matter. The use of the term “watu wasiojulikana” was noted.
Blandina was a broadcast journalist. She hosted Jarida la Wanawake which showcased the achievements of Tanzanian women from all walks of life, from all around the country.
I only got to know her after her passing because a few years ago Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority issued some directives that essentially forced everyone who wanted to watch television — which was previously free — to switch to decoders and pay for the privilege of access to information. Only one service provider, Star Times, was allowed to offer all of the Tanzanian channels.
Upon learning of her death, I knew there was only one appropriate response. I would have to write about Blandina as a sister feminist, as a journalist, as a woman and as a free citizen of the United Republic of Tanzania.
Her personality shines clearly in the videos that I found online. Upon learning that several feminist elders had helped “raise” her to become the women’s rights advocate and stellar broadcaster that Blandina was, I knew I had to ask one of them to help me write her eulogy for this article.
This is what I received from my feminist sister:
“Today, on March 31, Dar es salaam residents will pay their last respects to the remains of Blandina Sembu. Another senseless death, a brutal ending of a woman’s life in the hands of unknown assailants.”
Blandina could have been you or me. She could have been any woman who must think twice if they want to venture alone in the streets of Dar es salaam or any streets at all, let alone homes. Let us face it, we are not safe, we are not protected even in the “intimacy” of our own homes.
But Blandina was not a generic woman, no one is. She was a unique personality. A seasoned ITV reporter, she distinguished herself as a frontline worker for women’s rights and advocate for the intersectionality of gender discrimination and discrimination of people with disabilities. She embodied both and therefore had experiential knowledge of both.
She was a leader and active member of several civil society organisations and networks advocating rights of women and women with disabilities, notably Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders.
Blandina was vocal on issues of violence against women and girls, proportional representation and gender justice, among others. She researched and reported on these topics with zeal and bravery that went beyond call of duty.
Death is inevitable and her untimely death would have been deeply mourned. But not as deeply as it must be for hers was an untimely death that is being investigated as an act of felony.
Considering the boldness with which she conducted her business, one cannot rule out the possibility of a hate crime. Her death invoked feelings of shock and dismay among her friends and activists. The sadness was overwhelming. There was some anger, and some trauma. However, criminal investigation has its own procedures. All we can do at this point as fellow women rights and feminist activists is demand justice. And demand that the streets are made safe for women. As free citizens, we have every right to walk this earth without fear.”
At an intellectual level, I can objectively support and advocate for myself and others to walk this earth without fear. But on a personal level, the news of Blandina’s murder affected me. I am writing this today because I reached out to people who know how to help me keep going when the lights threaten to go dark. Again.
I say people because this support system is made up of women and men of all ages. The one who told me I had to write this article is a man. The reason I am a columnist today is because a man gently but skilfully nudged me into it. The one who showed me how to be a Tanzanian columnist on an international stage is a man. The one who ministered to me first in my hour of need and who leads me along the path of healing is a man.
Feminism does not only reside in the bodies of women, and the right to walk this earth without fear is a right fiercely defended by many. I need to state this so that we can address the issue of impunity. Beware: It matters not what gender you are, unknown assailants. This murder has incurred the wrath of legions. Blandina Sembu was rightly beloved, and she will not be forgotten. Her name is now part of our history, written in blood.
Thankfully, Blandina Sembu is still with us. She may be gone in body, but her spirit lives on in the people whose lives she touched. She is right there online, starting every episode of Jarida la Wanawake with a pep that makes you want to just keep watching her no matter what she chooses to talk about.
Rest in Power, Blandina Sembu. What a gift you were to the world. I am grateful for you.
Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]