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Are flags flying half-mast, or half-staff?

Tanzania is in mourning, having lost our beloved, charismatic and hardworking President, John Magufuli, on the evening of the 17 March 2021. The bad news was announced on state television in the wee hours of 18 March, by a visibly shaky Vice President, Samia Suluhu Hassan.

The Daily Blog of 18 March wrote in bold, of the “Unspeakable Heartbreak” (p. 3). According to the paper: “Dr Magufuli was from chronic atrial fibrillation, a condition he had fought for more than a decade”.

Clearly, something is missing from the above quotation, and this can be understood, given that newspapers had to act in a hurry to make sure they covered this important, albeit sad, event. The missing word is possibly “death”, the inclusion of which would make the sentence read: “Dr Magufuli’s death was from chronic atrial fibrillation, a condition he had fought for more than a decade”

The Good Citizen put it slightly differently, in a news item titled: “Death of the President: Why JPM passing shock Nation”, which opens with a paragraph reading: “Tanzania President John Magufuli has died at the age of 61, Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan ‘has’ announced yesterday”.

That ‘has’ should not be there, since it means the event has just taken place. You do not say “this event has taken place yesterday”, but rather, “this event took place yesterday”. Therefore, the Vice President announced yesterday (not: “has announced yesterday”).

What was the cause of death, and where did the death take place? The Good Citizen has it all: “In a televised speech on TBC, the Vice President announced that the President died of ‘a’ heart complications on March 17 2021, at about 6pm at Mzena Hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was admitted to on March 14”.

Clearly, since we are talking of heart complications, the indefinite article “a” which implies singularity should not be there.

In another item titled: ‘The First Tanzanian President to die in Office”, the Good Citizen takes us back to 2015, when the late President took oath: “dedicated to the faithful and thorough fulfilment of his duties as president”.

“I will do justice to all people in accordance with the laws, customs and traditions of Tanzania without fear, favour, bias or hate,” ‘he noted’ before the Chief Justice Judge Mohamed Chande Othman.

We are not happy with the words: “he noted”. This is a President-elect taking an oath, and the words he said cannot be described as being noted. I would change: “he noted”, to “he swore” to reflect the seriousness that this undertaking means.

“I will do justice to all people in accordance with the laws, customs and traditions of Tanzania without fear, favour, bias or hate”, ‘he swore’ (not: ‘he noted’) before the Chief Justice Judge Mohamed Chande Othman.

Back to the Daily Blog. In her televised speech, the Vice President is reported to have: “announced 14 days of national mourning and said that flags would fly half-staff”.

Half-staff? Hold-on a minute. We are more used to flags flying “half-mast”, when a nation is mourning. Is half-staff correct? A quick search on half-mast revealed the truth: “Half-mast or half-staff refers to a flag flying below the summit of a ship mast, a pole on land or a pole on a building. In many countries this is seen as a symbol of respect, mourning, or, distress….”.

So, yes, half-staff is correct but the search revealed some additional information: “Most English-speaking countries use the term half-mast in all instances”. So, Tanzania, being in the group of English-speaking countries, is better off using “half-mast” (compared to “half-staff”).

We agree with the Daily Blog: “The untimely death of the charismatic leader has left Tanzanians devastated, as they mourn the unbearable loss. What a loss! Tanzania has lost. Africa has lost”.

“O Lord, grant unto Him, eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon Him. May He rest in Peace, Amen”.

lusuggakironde@gmail.com

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Mwandishi: LUSUGA KIRONDE

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