When I went to report at Vulcan House, Sheffield Home Office on December 4th 2018 I was shocked to find the Home Office had invited an official from the Zimbabwe Embassy to ask me (and other asylum seekers from Zimbabwe) questions. I was very scared, this man represents the ZANU (PF) government that I escaped from. He had a big file about me on his desk and I found myself alone in a room with this man.
I was terrified that this was the start of a process to deport me to Zimbabwe where I know my life would be in danger. After ZANU (PF) raised the price of petrol in Zimbabwe, so that ordinary people could not afford it, protests started. The response of ZANU (PF) and the army was even more brutal than we had known before. Opposition activists were hunted house to house, children shot in the streets, women raped by the army. I couldn’t believe that now – of all times – the British government thought it was safe to send opposition activists like me back to Zimbabwe.
I could no longer try to hide from the Zimbabwean government and its spies in the UK. I had to speak out and identify myself. I wouldn’t want what happened to me at the Sheffield Home Office to happen to anyone else. I spoke on a demonstration against deportations to Zimbabwe outside the same Sheffield Home Office where I had been interrogated by the Zimbabwean Embassy official. I was interviewed for the Independent newspaper, appeared on many British and Zimbabwean internet sites about the danger in my home country and even appeared on Channel 4 news to explain why I and other Zimbabweans were terrified of being deported and killed in Zimbabwe. The ZANU (PF) Information Minister Nick Mangwana even responded to my Independent interview by saying that refugees returning to Zimbabwe are “welcome home and their safety is guaranteed”. There is no Zimbabwean refugee who believes that is true.
Other Zimbabwean asylum seekers in Sheffield were detained in immigration centres and threatened with deportation to Zimbabwe. Even though one of them, Victor Mujakachi, has been released after protests, many others are still there not knowing if tomorrow they will be deported to the country they fled in fear from.
Like so many other Zimbabweans I hoped that we would have freedom after Mugabe lost power. But it wasn’t to be. Emerson Mnangagwa “the crocodile” replaced Mugabe but ZANU (PF) was stil in power. Things got harder for ordinary Zimbabweans. Food shortages, inflation, corruption and violence against anyone who spoke out against ZANU (PF) got worse. It was hard seeing my countrymen suffer in Zimbabwe. But it didn’t get easier for Zimbabweans seeking asylum in the UK. The British government continued to detain and deport Zimbabwean asylum seekers.
We decided in SYMAAG to organise a protest against deportations to Zimbabwe because there were no real changes or democracy even though Mugabe had gone.
There have been protests outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in London every Saturday since 2002. The vigils aim to protest against the violation of human rights in Zimbabwe. We will protest until Zimbabwe is free from the dictatorship ZANU (PF) whether led by Mugabe or Mnangagwa. I can’t remember how many times I have attended and helped to organise Zim Vigils since I first went many years ago, but if it’s Saturday it’s Zim Vigil day. We know it is dangerous to protest at the Embassy but it is more dangerous for the future of Zimbabwe to be hidden and silent. I’ve also supported events organised by the Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) around the country including in Yorkshire. ROHR brings together all those people wanting freedom in Zimbabwe
As the slogans on our banners and placards say ‘We want free and fair elections in Zimbabwe’, ZANU is still the same nasty party even with a different leader and ‘End corruption and state looting in Zimbabwe’. The fact that I protested against this in Zimbabwe is why I had to leave the country
I soon started to campaign on all the issues affecting not just me, not just asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, but everyone forced to escape from persecution.
I had come from one hostile environment in Zimbabwe to another in the UK where the government tried to make life hard for asylum seekers by detaining us, denying us access to healthcare and trying to deport us to the dangers we fled from
SYMAAG and other groups protested at immigration removal centres like Morton Hall and Yarls Wood. I was pleased to get involved.
The dangers facing people trying to find safety by crossing the Mediterranean Sea were becoming known to the wider public in the UK when the photograph of the young boy Alan Kurdi dead on a beach was published in 2015.
As part of SYMAAG we organised a march ‘Don’t Let Them Drown’ through Sheffield to Vulcan House Sheffield Home Office to draw attention to people who were dying needlessly, trying to find safety
It wasn’t just asylum seekers who were being attacked by the British government’s Hostile Environment. Those who supported them were too. Like the Stansted 15 who were charged with serious offences for trying to stop a deportation flight. I joined a protest outside Vulcan House Sheffield Office in February 2019
Zimbabwe isn’t the only country where opposition activists are being persecuted. Sheffield Sudanese community organised demonstrations in support of their fellow countrymen who were killed protesting against the military dictatorship in Sudan. I was happy to support them.
I continued to volunteer with Northern Refugee Centre and other groups like the Sheffield Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers, as well as supporting Sheffield ASSIST which supports destitute asylum seekers. I decided to get more involved with SYMAAG and was elected to their Executive Committee in 2012. Now I could help plan campaigns as well just turn out to support them.
SYMAAG organised campaigns for the rights of people seeking asylum from Zimbabwe, particularly when repression against opposition to ZANU (PF) grew in the country after the fraudulent election in 2013. My country was like a war zone for opposition activists, especially MDC members.
I spoke, alongside my fellow Zimbabwean Victor Mujakachi, at a meeting of Sheffield Trade Union Council and was pleased they supported our protest against deportations to Zimbabwe and the right of asylum seekers to work in the UK. We have skills to offer, we don’t want to wait in limbo for years just waiting for the Home Office to get round to looking at our asylum claims
While I was volunteering with Northern Refugee Centre I met people from the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG). They were campaigning for better housing for asylum seekers – this was an issue for me and everybody waiting for their asylum claim to be looked at. The security company G4S were about to take over the running of asylum housing in Yorkshire. We were worried what that would mean for asylum tenants, especially after G4S were involved in detaining and deporting asylum seekers.
SYMAAG organised protests against G4S and the campaign became active with a high profile. I helped to involve asylum tenants of all nationalities to get involved and try to overcome their fears of retribution if they spoke out
I came to South Yorkshire, which has been my home ever since. I soon met other people who had escaped persecution in Zimbabwe. And refugees from other countries around the world who were going through the same as me. I volunteered with the Northern Refugee Centre in Sheffield helping direct refugees to groups that could support them with their claims for asylum in the UK and coping with life as an asylum seeker. Life wasn’t easy and I developed diabetes during this time. I learned how to find the right medication for my condition and help others who relied on this medication for their health.
There was no progress with my claim for asylum in the UK. I was still in limbo after years. So I sought the support of local MP Paul Blomfield