Thursday, July 15, 2004

Kenya Still Loves Pio Pinto in 2015!

 A Tribute, by Onyango Oloo in Nairobi

First of all, here is an excerpt from Cyprian Fernandes' blog, featuring a conversation between

Emma Pinto (seen here with her daughter Tereshka-the little girl in the car when her father was shot), Pio's 86 year old widow who now lives in Canada and  the Kenyan born, US-based Benegal Pereira:

How are you Emma, healthwise?
I am fine, considering my age and my handicaps. I have one seeing eye and it is losing power. I can’t recognise people if they more than four feet away. I also have two artificial ribs.
I had told my daughters that I never babysit their children. Linda has a boy and a girl, Malusha has two girls and a boy and I live with Tereshka in Otawa. He has no kids and keeps an eye on me.
I lost sight in one eye within three years of our arrival in Canada.
You have three loving daughters…
Yes they are very attentive.
After I finished working, Tereshka suggested that I write my autobiography. She said just spend 10 minutes a day doing it after had been to the gym. She also wanted me to write about her dad. I have written the biography and I did it in two months. I had nothing to do and wanted to write about my life story, hoping that Pio would come into it as I progressed.
I have memory blockages, dates, and times, I missed.
Of course, it is important to record or you will start forgetting things:
Yes I used the mental block as a mechanism to save my own mind. I say mental block because once I wrote it, I did not want to read it again … my emotions, you know?
During the first four years of my life “with” Pio, while he was in detention, I read a lot to try and understand why he was in politics for a country that was not his. It was just six months after we got married in January 1954, when Pio was sent to Nairobi Prison. Fitz de Souza took me to see him there. Soon after, Pio was moved to Fort Jesus and then to Manda Island in Lamu.
The children were no yet born?
No they weren’t born.  Thank goodness.
What was Pio like as a husband?
He was hardly ever there. Within the first six months, he told me  “you can’t  stay at home”.  Intelligent women don’t stay home, he said. Take a secretarial course and find a job, he said. And take Greggs shorthand (as opposed to the more popular Pitman’s shorthand). Pio did Greggs shorthand and he said: “One day you will able to read my shorthand if I need you to read back my notes.”
So I enrolled at Pioneer (did she mean Premier ) College and started learning Greggs.
I had hardly finished the course and had to go work because I didn’t realise that he wasn’t earning anything.
He would come home at seven or eight in the evening. I would be quite annoyed because we had no phone and his parents were in Nairobi at the time. Pio and I lived in the servants’ quarters of Fitz’s house and Fitz’s parents were staying the main house. (Fitz was in England studying, hence was not able to be at the wedding)
Pio had arranged a room for himself another for Rosario, his wife, and his mother-in-law.
We went on a short honeymoon to Jinja where one of Pio’s uncles lived. My parents and brother who had come for the wedding had left for India. Pio’s parents who had come from Nyeri (his father worked in the District Commissioner’s office) also returned home.
Pio and I moved into that room in which he had lived as a bachelor.
For the reception, Pio’s brother had arranged everything and the whole house was involved in the preparation of food and stuff.
At the time of the wedding,  Joe Murumbi’ s first wife Cecilia and their son Jojo were staying with us. Cecilia was probably Somali because after finishing his schooling India, Joe went straight to Somalia. She was the daughter of a chief but that could be just hearsay. (Fitz de Souza told Cyprian Fernandes in 2014 that he arranged for Cecilia to divorce Murumbi. Sheila, the second wife (bigamy in any language) was uncomfortable with Cecilia around. Fitz gave some money and she returned to Somalia where her family was supposed well off.)
Joe Murumbi could not come to the wedding because Pio, fearing for Joe’s safety following the detention of important elements of the Kenya African Union, sent Joe to London. Joe was the KAU vice-president.
Did you know Pio as a political activist, supporter of the Mau Mau?

No. I didn’t know the name, Mau Mau. (Elsewhere she says that Pio never spoke to her about politics, it was his way of shielding her). I knew he worked for the Indian National Congress in the Desai Memorial Building. I was not aware he was actively involved in the African political movement.
He told me only that he worked at the Indian Congress office.
(It is easy to the see the courage of Emma Gamma Pinto in what turned out to be a terrifying and horrific situation. As this part of the interview reveals, Emma continues to remain calm, pretty much in control until she is in complete shock when the full realisation of her loss finally hits.)

In his own quiet and concerned manner Benegal raises the difficult and sensitive question. He is always aware that he should not be party to cause Emma any hurt, pain or anguish. He asks her:  
It is now 48 years since that particular day. What do you remember of it?
On that particular day – we were living at No.6 Lower Kabete Road at the time. The house had been donated to Pio. He had bought me a little car so that I could have some independence as far as transport is concerned.
The new government was now nearly 14 months old and they had decided to get rid of all the English secretaries and Pio told me: You are going to be the secretary to Achieng Oneko, the Minister for Information, Broadcasting and Tourism.
Pio had dropped me off at my office in Jogoo House and had returned home to collect his Parliamentary papers.
About an hour later, I was in Achieng’s office, around 9 o’clock when my mother called me on the phone. She had just returned from India after taking my eldest daughter Linda there for six months.
My mother phone to say that Pio had been attacked and she was hysterical and I said: I will be home soon. I am coming home right away.
But I am a very , very calm person in any emergency.
So I immediately phoned the Minister for Defence, Dr Njoroge Mungai, and told his office that Pio had been attacked and said please send the police there (to their home).
Then I picked up the phone and rang Joe Murumbi because he would not have left the office because Parliament does not start until 11 am. He was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He and his wife Sheila lived five minutes away from us. I said to him: Joe Pio has been attacked, please go to our house.

Next, I ran into Achieng’s office and said: Can I have your car. He said his car was in the garage for repairs or a service.
Then I rang Oginga Odinga’s office and spoke to an American girl, Caroline Odongo, Odinga’s secretary and said to her: Caroline, Caroline, can I get a car to take me home? Pio has been attacked. She said she would call me back immediately. She did. She told me Odinga’s spare car was being sent round to the front of Jogoo House and would be waiting for me. Odinga was the first Vice-President of the country.
All the time, I assumed that Pio had been attacked and that he had been injured and I assume … inaudible.
As I got to the gate of our house, I saw our car had been parked at the gate and as I got out of Odinga’s care, I saw Murumbi arriving in his car.
As we walked past the car and into our home to find about Pio, my mother said: He is still in the car, he been killed. That was the first time I had heard that Pio had been killed. So we both dashed out to the car and saw that Pio’s body had been covered in a pink blanket. My mother had asked our house servant, a nice young man called Waweru, to cover Pio.
Pio usually gave our 18-month old daughter Tereshka a ride from the back of the house to the gate from where she would be collected by the maid and walked home. When the maid got to the back of the car, she heard shots and she ran back to the house to get Waweru. She really did not see too much because she was terrified. By the time Waweru got to the car, Pio had already been shot.
Were there any eye witnesses? A woman saw two African men, one on either side of the car. At the trial of the man charged with the murder (but released as innocent 35 years later) they said there were two assailants.
Are you still angry?
No. Because of my reading of political matters I am aware that politicians lead very dicey lives. They are walking a tightrope. So when Pio was assassinated I assumed it was part of the politician’s life.

It was shocking for me, a new immigrant to Kenya that he was shot so soon. He had already been in detention for four years. It was tragic.
Did you feel cheated?
Well I felt disappointed that someone who had worked so hard for freedom …in my readings, I read that bitterness is like a fire in the corner of a house which will eventually consume the whole house. So I was cognisant of the fact that I should never be bitter of the whole situation. It was a fact of life. Mahatma Gandhi was murdered ….
Did you get much support from family and friends?
My twin sister Joyce lived just down the road from me. The people at the first private British company I worked for (International Aeradio Limited, engineers), I don’t think they were sympathetic to Pio, but they were sympathetic to a widow.
Joe and Sheila Murumbi took me to their home for two days. My mother stayed with the girls at our house. Our friend Dr Eraj gave me a sedative because I was in severe shock.
When we saw Pio’s body in the car, Joe said let’s get Pio inside the house. Because I was in shock I have no clear memory of the people there.
Waweru and Joe’s driver put Pio’s body in the pink blanket and carried his body, not like a sack of potatoes, but like something, into the living room.

Fitz de Souza (MP and Deputy Speaker) arrived at one point. I had not phoned Fitz. I don’t know at what point Fitz was involved. Perhaps he found out from Parliament which had been informed. (Fitz a barrister heard while attending the Kenya High Court.)
Fitz was there when Pio’s body was brought into the living room. I remember I sat down and they put the blanket down and I could see that little hole under his ribs. I was sitting with Joe and Fitz, and I said: Gosh, Pio looks so pale.”
And Fitz said: Get out of there, get out of the room.
So that was my one and only view of Pio when he was brought into the home.
After nearly 50 years, do you feel that Kenyans have served Pio’s memory well?
I think they are doing quite a bit to keep his memory alive. They have named a street after him and they also included his image in a commemorative stamp which: Heroes of Kenya and included: Tom Mboya (a rising political star, also assassinated), Ronald Ngala (leader of people from the Kenya coast)  and Oginga Odinga (fellow socialist, some would say communist, first vice president of Kenya and later the opposition leader).
The street in which we lived, Kabete Road, has been name after Pio. All the houses have been demolished, including ours and the whole area has been redeveloped. A large shopping mall has been erected.
What was Pio like as a Member of Parliament?
As you may have realised, I was more or less the breadwinner and Pio and I never checked our bank balance. I did not know how much we had until he was assassinated and when I went to the bank to get the money to pay our rent which was in arears. There was nothing. And I had to pay Cecilia’s rent as well …
I am a little confused, Joe Murumbi had two wives?
Yes. When he came back from England, he brought Sheila with him. As I said before, just after 1954, Pio sent Joe Murumbi to the UK escape arrest. Pio was sending him information about the situation in Kenya, the Mau Mau, the detainees … so that Joe could advise the British members of Parliament who were sympathetic to Kenya.
Did you know India’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Apa Pant, who said that it was Pio who introduced him to Kenyatta, Koinange and brought him into the enclaves of the Mau Mau. Did Pio mention him to you?
Pio kept his political work completely secret from me.
Several attempts have been made to write Pio’s story. Most, if not all, have fallen short. What is the hold-up in writing the complete story?
In order to write someone’s story,  one has to have written facts but when Pio was shot his two friends, Pran Lal Sheth (Pranlal, a journalist, barrister and a businessman. He was also an outstanding fighter of freedom both in Kenya and India. Soon after Pio’s death he was deported and went to continue his battles for people in the UK) and Sarjit Singh Heyer (an economist and a confidante of Pio) burnt all his books, papers and other material (Pran Lal told me this many, many years later when I visited him in England.) Pranlal had insisted Pio’s papers be burnt and I remember seeing a bonfire that night after Pio was shot.
Pio had his own office in the house and they took Pio’s books, papers and everything and they burnt them. They didn’t even ask me.
They could have hidden them or taken them somewhere.
Sheila Murumbi told me later that she would have taken the books and papers but they did not even ask her. I think Pranlal and Sarjit were there but I can’t really recall because I was still in shock. All I remember is when I looked at the back door I saw the big bonfire.
Do you think they did it to protect the family?
No. Pio did not write about the family.
So why did they burn …
We have to speculate because Pranlal said that Pio was not only involved in Kenyan politics but also in African politics… countries that were just emerging. I guess they were concerned that Pio might have mentioned names and they were protecting these people, the politicians, dignitaries, that Pio had come into contact with.
I had no idea who they were because Pio never told me what he was involved in or the personalities. Pio used have people from foreign countries come to the house and have meetings in his office but I was never involved. He never asked me to make tea or provide refreshments.
I just did not want anyone living in our home, even though we had a spare room. I told Pio we should protect our family. I said we had daughters and we must protect them.
How long did you remain in Kenya after the assassination?
I remained in Kenya for two years. I was waiting for the tombstone which I was told was coming from Italy.
Pio is buried in Nairobi’s City Park cemetery, is it protected?
Not really.
Was he buried in the City Park cemetery for any reason … most Goans were buried in the Langata cemetery?
All the arrangements were made by Joe Murumbi and Fitz de Souza. Fitz left Kenya soon after the assassination because he was afraid, he told me so in London not so long ago. He realised he might have been in danger. I think he was there for the funeral.
You visited Kenya twice …?
The first time Fitz invited the whole family and my mum too. We stayed with them in their Muthaiga home.
The second time was when Achieng Oneko’s son came to Canada and asked if he could do anything for us. He was the Minister for Tourism or was in Tourism. My daughter Linda, husband and I took him up on the offer and he made all the arrangements for the safari.
I know you went to meet Achieng in his ancestral home …?
I went to his home and he had retired from work. In our honour he had a goat slaughtered for a barbecue. He said to me: Emma this is specially done because it our tradition.
Linda and her husband stayed with his daughter 200 yards away. I stayed with Achieng and his wife Lois. We spent two nights there. On day at breakfast, Lois point to a room and said that was Achieng’s office.
I asked Achieng what he did in his office. He said: Oh, nothing it is all locked up.
I asked: All locked up? Do you have papers in there? You must let me have some of the papers Pio wrote to you.
He said: No, no, I am not opening that door. So I said: Please, Please.
So he went in brought out one file folder and as I leafed through I recognised a letter in Pio’s handwriting. And I said, Achieng, give me this letter.
He said: I am not going to give it to you.
I said: Make a copy for heaven’s sake.
He thought about it and said: We have no photocopier here.
I said: Well I am going to Nairobi for a meeting and I will send you a copy.
We left without the letter. A day or two later, I got a call from him saying come and have a coffee with him at his motel. When I got there, Pio’s letter and a copy of it were there.

I said: you are not going to give me the copy? I want the original.
He said: Why?
I said: It is my husband’s letter.
He took the letter and wrote: “Given to Emma” and signed his name.
I was so taken up and excited with finding one letter that I forgot to through the rest of folder.
 Nest we ask again, who was Pio Gama Pinto?

Well, here is a version of his biography from Wikipedia.

But be careful of a little but SIGNIFICANT detail.

The day Pinto died.

The article like most other accounts in the public domain state that Pio da Gama Pinto died on  February 25, 1965.

Well, that is simply NOT TRUE.

If you put these words on Google

"hansard" "kenya national assembly" "february 1965" "pio gama pinto"

You come up with this link:

Which informs you that at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, FEBRUARY THE TWENTY FOURTH,  a hushed and stunned Kenya National Assembly was informed by the Speaker, Sir  Humphrey Slade, that the MP representing what is now Westlands Constituency was shot dead as he was  leaving his drive way on his way to Parliament. The Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga made a motion for the house to be adjourned in honour and mourning for the slain Pio da Gama Pinto. Tom Mboya, a powerful minister and Secretary General of the ruling party KANU seconded the motion. After a ten minute session, the Speaker adjourned proceedings for 24 hours.

What adds to the confusion is this newspaper headline from the Daily Nation newspaper:

Dear reader, please scrutinize the DATE.

 By the way Pinto's killers have never been caught to date, March 2015.

Kisilu Mutua,  who spent 36 years behind bars for a crime he never committed, was a poor  21 year old vendor was a convenient scapegoat.

Fifty years later, we are alive to the fact that Pinto’s assassination is what ushered in a sordid era of state linked terror against those who were seen to be anti the status quo- the wiping out of the Mau Mau Generals Bamuingi and Chui; the daylight killing of Tom Mboya; the later brutal deaths of JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko, Father John Kaiser, Karimi Nduthu and others. This culture undoubtedly culminated into what is unquestionably the nadir of our national political contestations where major players across the partisan divide were implicated by the Waki Report and subsequently the widely televised ICC trials which has left a more traumatized, more ethnicized and definitely more polarized nation despite the lofty hopes and aspirations of the 2010 Constitution.

The death of Pinto was the first sledge hammer hauled at the Kenyan progressive forces, especially those who like Pinto identified themselves with the socialist ideology Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya and the right wing in KANU would soon follow with the draconian security laws of 1965 ushering in detention without trial, an eerie harbinger of the harsh security regime passed by the Jubilee administration in 2014. Pinto’s passing was also a death knell to ideological issue  based politics, a distant cry from the current farcical charade where the National Assembly has entire sessions devoted to determine whether or not  governors are entitled to fly flags in their gas guzzlers or deign to refer themselves as “Excellency”.

By killing Pinto the regime was also sending a chilling message to Kenyans of Asian heritage not to rock the boat. Soon after his death, close associates of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who happened to be Kenyans of South Asian descent were “deported” often to India- a country some of them had never seen!  The ensuing xenophobia contributed to a siege mentality within this important section of the wider Kenyan community. The later racist outbursts of  “nationalists” like  Martin Shikuku and Kenneth Matiba on the alleged dominance of “Indians” on the Kenyan economy only helped to mislead a gullible public some more.

Today as we remember Pinto and his active solidarity and support for the Mau Mau and national progressive causes; as we celebrate his courageous journalism in the Kenya Chronicle and his seminal role in launching Sauti ya KANU and later the Pan Africa Press, let us do justice by continuing his legacy in entrenching democracy, social justice, egalitarianism and yes, socialism.

Had the Lumumba Institute, which Pinto slaved day and night to establish in 1964 as an ideological training institute for party cadres taken root, we would not have in the twenty first century the pathetic phenomenon where at least two sitting presidents successively abandon the very parties that propelled them to power.

In 2015, we should continue Pinto’s work of nation building by creating a Kenya which transcends tribalism, sexism, racism and neo-liberalism.


Even the Kenya Government, which in its earlier incarnation was directly responsible for ordering the assassination of this beloved patriot, succumbed the national sentiment of affection and adoration for Pinto by producing this stamp:

Let us rewind by  scrolling through the  following pictorial excerpts from the life and times of Pio da Gama Pinto

On Saturday, March 7, 2015 Kenyans are celebrated our great Shujaa, our indomitable and inimitable  Mzalendo:

Onyango Oloo
Nairobi, Kenya
Thursday, March 5, 2015

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