Dar es Salaam. Pressure mounts on President Samia Suluhu Hassan to remove from office Songwe district commissioner Simon Simalenga after reports emerged Tuesday that implicate him in abusive conduct, sparking fury among members of the public.
Mr Simalenga faces accusations of beating a girl named Florenencia Mjenda, causing her serious injuries. The teenage girl made the accusations on Monday while speaking with journalists.
According to Mjenda, the incident took place on December 2, 2022, during a women’s football match where Mr Simalenga reportedly summoned Mjenda and hit her after accusing her of sitting at the wrong place, a place designated for dignitaries.
“When were sitting there when the DC showed up and summoned all of us,” Mjenda, a resident of Mbangala in Songwe, told journalists. “My colleagues ignored him and went different ways but I went to meet him out of respect. When I got to him, he held my hand and slapped me.”
Mr Simalenga, however, has denied the reports, telling the media that nobody was beaten and that things did not turn out at the scene as they are being reported in the media.
“The only thing I did was to issue a warning [to the students],” Mr Simalenga is quoted as saying. “And the girl who claims that I slapped her I just held her hands and she apologized.”
But a team of social workers appointed by Minister for Community Development, Gender, Women and Special Groups Dr Dorothy Gwajima to look into the matter confirmed the incident to have occurred, reporting that already the victim has filed a lawsuit on indecent assault with the police.
“I’m personally saddened by this incident and I strongly condemn [the behaviour] by [government] leaders to go outside the prescribed arrangement and initiate a personal feud,” Dr Gwajima told journalists on Tuesday. “Mostly in these cases, women and children tend to be the victims. This is not acceptable.”
Calls for accountability
The government’s confirmation that the incident has taken place will definitely embolden the ongoing campaign demanding President Samia remove Mr Simalenga from office.
In Tanzania, district commissioners are not elected by the people but are appointed by the president.
Rebeca Gyumi, the Executive Director of Msichana Initiative, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to empower a girl child through education, condemned the alleged misconduct by the DC, saying that there should be accountability.
“Strict measures should be taken against this DC,” the recipient of the 2018 UN Human Rights Prize said in a Twitter post. “Although violence is not acceptable regardless of the time, how did the DC dare to hit a girl in public during the commemoration of 16 Days of Activism?”
16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.
In Tanzania, the campaign is taking place under the theme Every Life Matters: End Femicide and Violence against Women and Children and it was officially launched on November 28, 2022, at Leaders grounds in Dar es Salaam.
The National Coordinator for Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa said in a Twitter post that the decision by the DC to beat the student was “unacceptable.”
“What this DC did was a crime and therefore he needs to be prosecuted,” Mr Olengurumwa wrote on Twitter. “But he also committed an ethical mistake as a public official. He should be held accountable.”
Acts of violence against women and girls have been on the rise in recent years whereas the police report indicates that between January and December 2021, a total of 29,373 people were subjected to sexual violence, among them, 20,897 women and 8,476 men.
This is according to data by Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), a local NGO that works to advance women’s rights in Tanzania.
Speaking during the commemoration of this year’s 16 Days of Activism on November 28, 2022, at Leaders grounds, WiLDAF’s Executive Director Anna Kulaya said that 68.6 per cent of all the reported deaths related to gender violence were against women.
Not the first time
This is not the first time that a district commissioner in Tanzania is reported to take matters into his own hands after being dissatisfied with a certain situation.
On December 16, 2020, then-Arusha district commissioner Kenani Kihongosi flogged three students and four other people engaged in the business of scrap metals.
Kihongosi, now secretary of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) youth wing UVCCM, gave the punishment after he accused the students of selling scrap metals belonging to their school to the four businessmen.
On October 31, 2019, Tunduru district commissioner Julius Mtatiro flogged three students at one of the schools in the district after accusing them of dropping out of school.
In these and many other incidents like them, there was no accountability despite the incidents provoking a huge uproar among members of the public across the country.
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo journalist based in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Asifiwe Mbembela contributed to this reporting from Mbeya. He can be reached at email@example.com.