Photograph of Alice Chigumera

Alice Chigumera

Born: 15th May 1965

Harare, Zimbabwe

Date of interview: 31st May 2006

Map showing where Alice Chigumera came from

My name is Alice Chigumira

Can you tell me where and when you were born?

I was born in Zimbabwe, but then it was called Rhodesia in a township called Mpopoma in Bulawayo on the 15th of May 1965 in a family of four boys and I am the only girl.

I have lived in Bolawao since childhood growing up where my father used to work for the national railways of Zimbabwe, it was called Rhodesia Railways, he was a messenger there. My mother was not a full housewife, who used to do most of the domestic work and make our clothes to sell and make extra money.

In our family we used to live in a place called Matshobane which was more or less a place for employees of the railways and that's where we grew up and I went to a school, called Campu Primary School from Grade 1 up to Grade 7.

My childhood was mainly dominated by male because I was the only female and my mum only and with four boys in there and I was the last born of the family. My father originally came from northern Rhodesia, what was then called Zambia and my mother originally comes from a place called Zvimba which most people might identify as where the President of Zimbabwe comes from and she speaks the language called Shona. Growing up we both learnt Ndebele and Shona together as our main language. We grew up with all the values of the Bula people and the Shona people and Bulawayo has an integrated society where it was dominated mainly by the Ndebele people.

I grew up in a family whereby I could not say we were very, very poor, we could sustain ourselves because mother used to do anything just to make sure that we could get a meal on our table and sell anything that was good to make extra money. Being a girl I was more or less daunted by everything that a girl could get from the family and I think it made me grow up with the spirit and a powerful kind of body and everything physically and mentally.

I became a Prefect at school in the primary school when I was in grade six and I used to do very well at school and I used to do long distance running, play netball and up til now I lost one of my teeth, which I don't have up to now playing netball all over the country when I was still in primary school. From there I passed my grade seven and went to what we call a high school here, that is called secondary school in Zimbabwe, called Mzilikazi High School which was one of the best schools in the locations in Zimbabwe.

By then my father retired from the railways he managed to buy a house where we lived for some time with my brothers, who had already finished their school, me and myself and my mum. It was quite a difficult time then because my dad was not working, so we probably relied mainly on my mum who was very, very clever. I think she has been a mentor in my life, who could go to Botswana, order clothes and come and sell and make sure that we went to good schools and had a uniform and everything, to make us sustaining everyway.

After going to High School for four years I kept on active with my running, I wasn't playing all that much netball, but I was very good in my English, like what they call composition and acting and drama and all that and I kept me going until I finished seeing hard times, whereby by that time the political up risings in Zimbabwe started. Also when I was in my form two in Zimbabwe there was the, a thing called the 'hit head', that most political people are aware about where many people were killed, and schools were stopped and the infrastructures in Zimbabwe were destroyed because it was more or less a civil war. It was really, really bad because there was so many people who died and I remember one time when I came from school, was sitting in our house and all of a sudden people came and started stoning the house and it was totally ruined and I don't know how we survived. With my mum, who was quite a big person, we managed to crawl out and go through the back yard and stay with neighbours. Later on we were called, by what they call the youths at that time to come and see a peasant being bashed to death by stoning. That's one of my first experience of seeing somebody killed by stone and we were supposed to look until the entire ordeal was done. It was quite traumatic for me because I think by that time I was almost about fourteen, fifteen years and looking at the ruins of our house, you couldn't know what was going to happen.

Because my father and mother were not politically active or in any way inclined to in group, so we had well wishes from the church and other people, who managed to re-build the place that we had and got somewhere to stay for the time being.

We were helped by a businessman called Vera, who used to own a lot of butcheries and shops in Zimbabwe, and they are a great family in Zimbabwe who managed to help us go through our school and build up the house, and I continued with my education.

I left High School and due to things of financial constraint, I couldn't go any further with my education and my mum all the same tried to sort of help me through and I managed to go to a private college to do what we call a Secretarial Diploma, which I did for three years. I did very well and from there I got my first job with the Government, with the National Archives of Zimbabwe where we store historic things and files and everything concerning codes, procedures and all the other things. I then left that job and went to join the Minister of Public Construction and Housing and also was a Secretary for some time and during all this period, now that I was managing to sort of get a little bit of my money, I managed to be doing a few other courses, extra courses to enhance myself and trying also to sustain my mum and dad because it was quite difficult for them to sustain in any way. The pension system, that was then in place wouldn't sustain them in anyway, they used to buy the house and pay for the fees for us.

I stayed with my parents for quite some time and then later on I found a job internally within the Government that they wanted people to work in the Diplomatic Services and they needed women to come and join, those they thought were single and were able to go out in the country and work and I thought it was quite a good challenge for me and applied for the job and I moved from Bulawayo

How old were you at that time?

I was twenty years by then, when I applied for the job to go in to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, so by the time I turned twenty one I was, I went to join the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Harare, it's the only chance I get. It was quite devastating to leave my parents but I went to stay with my brother, the one who was the policeman and his wife in Harare, as you know with our culture extended families are acceptable, we live as one and we love each other no matter what happens.

Staying there I went to train what they call diplomatic courses, mostly of the things were done by the British people and we were trained for six months by a teacher, who came from Britain. She was a fantastic woman who taught us a lot about ethnic, different diversity in the world because we're going there alone, talked about us, about more or less what we call a finish school, about how you dress, how you eat, how you talk with certain people, and all the values of different cultures and how to persevere in a world where it is different from the norms of our own culture. It was a fantastic way of doing it and I was looking forward to that challenge, I was going out.

Then just before I left in 1989, my brother, the one I was very close to, the policeman just died in an accident in a, when he was coming from work. He was what we call by then a scuba diver who used to go in to different places and do different things and he had an accident and died on the spot, he left a three month old baby and a newly wed wife. This really devastated me because I'd only one month to leave, my father was approximately about seventy and almost blind and depended mostly on, they had children to sustain them and I left.

My first posting practically was to go to Yugoslavia, it was in December 1989 and due to the fact that I'd no experience about the cold weather and having had a system whereby in our country we always believe that because of our traditional values, which include British values, I was dressed more or less like in a suit way, in high heels and I had on my stockings and got on to the plane and came to Germany where I was met again by one of our officers from the Embassy. It was quite snowy, very cold and I didn't have anything to wear, which could keep me warm but they knew that I was coming and they brought some few things for me to keep myself warm.

It was a good experience to see the snow for the first time out of the country to such a far away place and I got on to the next plane, again to Yugoslavia, got in to the plane and I couldn't speak their language which was more or less like Serbia or Croatia, they're flight. We had a bit of mis-communication because when you wanted coffee, the one I'm used to is a bit lighter and they have more or less like what you call the thick kind of coffee. When I got to the airport, again it was snowing, met by our Embassy officials who helped me and I checked in to a hotel where I stayed for a month without even knowing any single word. That was in Belgrade then, 1989, and it was quite difficult for me because during that time it was a time of transitional period, er the communist era and all that was happening in Yugoslavia and there was a bit of resentment looking at an African black woman coming in and single handedly staying in a hotel.

The language barrier were the other thing, staying in a hotel, you wouldn't know how to order the food, you wouldn't know how to ask for anything publicly or if you go to the shops how you could speak their language, so I was helped more or less by students, African students who were there, who could sometimes, if I wanted to go shopping they would help me, go with me and they'd speak the language and that's how I slowly learnt how to speak a little of Serbia or Croatia and I just started picking up on a few words.

I stayed in Yugoslavia for almost about a year, almost two years, but luckily I left Yugoslavia before the war that started, I was very, very lucky, I left in 1992 early, before the war started.

OK so you came to Britain?

My first experience of Britain was in 1990, we came as girls, one lady from the American Embassy, one from the Danish Embassy, one Ghanaian guy. We drove all the way across Europe from Yugoslavia to Austria and across Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, got in to the ship and came to London and we did what any other young girl could do, going around clubs and all that and seeing the views. I don't know what I could think about because by then it was more or less I had the money, I had everything so I was more or less living sort of you know what I could call a poshy life, living in a very expensive hotel and having all the fun as a young person, and that was my experience of, my first experience of Britain and we only came to London.

When I went back to Zimbabwe after this in 1992, by then I was almost about twenty five years, most of my peer friends were married and had families, and all that, and you know our culture, twenty five years is quite out of the ordinary because you are not married and you don't have any children and my mum was worried whether I'd get married.

When I got back to the Foreign Ministry, I worked in a department which was called Protocol, which deals with the civilian, our people from different countries, helping out when the President is travelling or other officials of the Government and making sure that the diplomats, a new organisation or international organisation are credited properly, and had my first baby girl in January 1992, she was born on the 30th of January 1992 and she was a lovely baby.

Four months down the line my dad just woke up and he died of a stroke and he didn't know I was pregnant and it really obviously devastated me because looking at it, I really wanted to have done more for him, now that I was financially comfortable, but it so happened I couldn't and God had had his own way of doing things and he died like that and my mother was widowed.

So your dad actually died, was that 1992?

'91, he died in '91, immediately when I came back from Yugoslavia so, well my mum was left alone now in the house and she still lived in that house that they bought in. I would have brought her back some things like colour tv and all that just to make sure that she's comfortable and give her most of the things to sustain her and I managed to sort of get somebody, as you know we have extended families to live with her so she doesn't become lonely. My mother is a very Christian person who has always gone to Methodist Church and was brought up in that and baptised as a Methodist, and up till now I still go to the local Methodist church in Kings Road and that's how we have been brought up

Is that Kings Road in Reading ?

Yes Kings Road in Reading, that's where I'm a member of the Methodist church. So, well we carried on after that and came back, I stayed in Harare continuously and I bought myself a house where I rented it out and still sub-letted the place, sub-let it so that it could give a legal income to my mum. In Harare I was also staying with a family sharing a house with a. who then became like my Godmother.

They looked after me very, very well because my mother never believed that I was not married and had a child, and I still continued having a relationship with the father of my child, but they thought that I, in our culture you can't live with a man without being married so you have to live with some elderly people to instil certain values and that, so I continued living with them for some time whilst still working in the Presidents' office, sorry in the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

By the end of I think it was just immediately when I get back, when I came back from maternity leave, I was told that I was going to be transferred to the Presidents' office for no apparent reason and this was something that really no-one could tell, even the higher offices. I wanted to find out why and they said it was something to do with the re-structure within the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I give my case because I still wanted to go on another posting and do all the other things that were there, but before then it was decided that I should get posted again and I was then told to go to Mozambique, that was in 19th September 1992.

That's when I went to Mozambique from 1992 up to '97 January, when I came back again.

During the time between the time '92 when I get back to my child and the end of '92 before I get posted, I had the privilege, well I did refuse in the first instance, but I think it was a privilege on my own way, to work with the Vice President of Zimbabwe, the late Simon Muzenda, worked in his office for almost less, than a year. By then Zimbabwe was in a devastating state because of the drought so I was more or less like a personal assistant, advisory on what to do about trying to find more food for the people, dealing with donors, going out in the villages to find out what people, accompanying him, finding out what people do, programmes about GMB, how food was distributed properly to every single person in the country. It was quite a very challenging post at that time and I really enjoyed it, I had the experience of meeting so many great people who did quite a lot to Zimbabwe at that time, during the drought period and really travelled quite a lot an he was a fatherly figure to me who made me see a lot of views.

Up to now I'm finding him as a person who was a fatherly figure, who never used to show that being a Vice President I have power to do certain things and instilled a lot of valuable things to younger children who would come thinking, because they are related to him and could get them jobs, he would tell them to go and get an education first and then go to the normal channels and apply and get jobs. I mean being a Vice President it's a simple phone call in my country just to say give him a job, but he never used to do that, he was a person who, during lunchtime he would sit in his office and make a cup of tea, he would eat 'umqutshu', what we call 'umqutshu' in my language nothing fancy, bread with some jam, that's all done, even if he's invited for dinner or lunch in anyway, he's not that kind of person who keep on eating all these other things. He used to love his village, he used to come from, so every Friday he would go to his village, be a village peasant or sometimes we would accompany him and see what he does and bred a lot of pigs, cows and everything, he was just a human person. I think I'd equate him to what we call Joshua Nkomo, people who had values for people, who would walk in the street and they never needed a bodyguard.

When I left for Mozambique in 1992, I went to Mozambique when it was the hardest part of it all. It was unfortunate for me also Yugoslavia was a hard posting, what we call a hardship posting and Mozambique again was a hardship posting, because it was the time when Romano went Frelimo heavy. The war that had gone on for almost over ten years, the country was devastated, buildings were all gone, running water was not there, there was absolutely nothing there. They were still negotiating to come to a peace agreement and the then President managed to do a peaceful agreement with Nkomo, which settled things a little bit, but to build up the infrastructure and make things work was not all that easy. We used to travel every Friday or Saturday to go shopping to Swaziland which is about fifty kilometres from Maputo to do our shopping because I still had, my daughter was about eight months and so ...

So your daughter was about eight months whilst you were in Mozambique?

Yes.

And so she was actually living with you in Mozambique?

Yes she was actually living with me, I still was single by then, I didn't get married to the father of my daughter and all of us at the Embassy, when I got to Mozambique we formed what we call the Young African Diplomatic Club, just to make sure we didn't feel out of place because it was quite difficult to more or less have a social life there.

So how long, altogether, did you spend in Mozambique?

I spent in Mozambique approximately about five years, up to January 1997.

And where did you go from there?

I went back home after 1997, I was married by then. I got married in 1993, my husband Kitson Chigumira, he used to be a metallurgist, originally was from a place called Mount Darwin, we had met at a party and it so happened from one thing led in to another. The devastating part is that eleven days before my wedding, when I was supposed to fly from Mozambique to come to my wedding, my mother just died of a stroke and it was quite, it was not a wedding any more. We just went to church because she had said that I should get married somehow and normally in our culture when we get married we always do things for our mothers so that they can be happy and be proud of us and it really, it really didn't go, up til now just didn't go well with me, it was quite a traumatic situation and I got married on the 4th of December 1993 in church in Bulawayo.

By then the situation was a bit stable in Mozambique and people could sort of come in and resourcefully do something. My climax of living in Mozambique was when I won an award. There was a time in 1995, where they did what they call a national competition for the whole of the country, which was sponsored by the South African, where they wanted to say people should write something about the Mozambique, because it had progressed from what it was in 1992 to this. I wrote my own sort of thesis about Mozambique and the things that I valued, how to communicate best and how I found my own way of making sure effective communication was done by learning certain things, especially the language and the culture and knowing how the people lived there, although we all come from Southern Africa, we've got different cultures. So I was one of the persons who was given an award by the President which was an honour, as you see with my picture there and I had the pleasure of having a dance with him, dining with him and winning that award which I still cherish up till now.

So you, you left Mozambique for the second time, in what year did you say?

So '97 that's when I was re-called back home, went back to the Minister of Foreign Affairs again and worked in the Protocol Section where I was working. During my time when I was working in Mozambique I met Geoffrey Nyarota from the Nordic/SADC [South African Development Corporation] training journalists and I had some talent in writing and we talked about setting things and he had plans of starting a newspaper which is called the Daily, Daily Newspaper, which is one of the newspapers which was private, started in Zimbabwe, the first private newspaper which was bombed by the present Government and destroyed totally.

When I came back home, I'd invested some money and bought some machines and all that and wanted to be part and parcel of all that and it was, it happened and the paper was started, but I was still working for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I was married, I had my house in Emerald Hill in Harare and I had my child, Tadiwa, meaning you are so much loved, a girl born on the 17th of September 1997, and still went on ahead and became a shareholder of the Daily newspaper. It was quite a difficult time because working for Government and having shares with the Daily newspaper, which contradicts what most people would say, what Government believes in, which is a public view, which is an open minded newspaper was not okay at that very moment.

So working again in the Protocol Section I was really, I went through hell from 1997 up to the time I was supposed to resign to the year 2000, and it was quite traumatic for me, but I stood by what I wanted, I had my own principles. I wanted to do a lot of things, I had thought there was a lot of things which needed to be done, I'd worked within the system, I knew certain things were not being done and I think I was going to be a voice in everyway and I was forced to resign with no apparent reason.

2000 left Foreign Affairs and started my own company, although I still held on with my shares with the Daily newspaper, I used to write stories with them and mostly, they were not politically affiliated but they had some articles of them that had sort of a powerful voice to say how can, women especially, can stand on their own, even if you are a Government worker.

During the time '97 up to 2000 I was getting invited all over Southern Africa to go and be a speaker about what we call how to communicate in diverse community, because of my background of being a Diplomat and what I'd written in newspapers. I used to travel like to South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and all the other places, in to Conferences and do a lot of things. So the year 2000, 2000 in September I resigned from Foreign Affairs, started my company.

OK Alice could you tell me about when you arrived in Britain, the year you arrive and your experiences?

I came to Britain, it wasn't really planned, it was because of the political pressure that was happening and I just came with just a few clothes and went to South Africa, just took a plane and landed in Britain. By then I'd called my friend, knowing they were on the phone when I was in South Africa and got her to wait for me at the airport at the Heathrow, came with the South African Airways. She waited for us and we got in to the First Great Western Buses, came to Reading. By that time she was living in Shinfield. My, when I first came to Heathrow, well experience of Britain was not that, all that new to me, but I was still in quite a traumatic situation when I came here and when I got to the airport it was more or less like you know the usual immigration things that got through, 'Why are you here?' 'Why have you come?' and all the other questions.

When you came was that the year 2000?

2002 in July. I arrived here 2002, July 28th . I got through the immigration and came and stayed in Shinfield with my friend and I stayed there for about two weeks. I was still in a traumatic situation. I'd left my kids there and I was just devastated about what had happened, my kids, my whole entire life had been left in Zimbabwe, I had a lot of properties that I'd bought, I'd had a very good house and was doing quite well ... to come here and sort of live from hand to mouth from my friend was devastating especially leaving my kids. By then Tadiwa was about two, three years and Michelle also born '92, was about ten years and I left them with their cousins.

I stayed here for about two weeks in Reading and finding it very difficult to manage and most of the things that had to be done had to be done in London concerning my stay here. It was more or less like a political asylum and my friend, there was very little that she could do to help me going up and down by train to go to London and come back, the next day go again so I moved over and went to stay in Canning Town with another old friend of mine, we grew up in the same location. I stayed with her, she was very helpful, she was wonderful, people did help me a lot here and she introduced me to people, a lawyer who could help me through all of the whole system of political immigration and asylum system and I had all the evidence about my political asylum, I used paper cuttings, I had Diplomatic passports, more or less all that was needed and I was granted indefinite stay to live, to live in the UK.

I started working immediately, got a job as a carer, something very totally different and I was still in London then, because I moved from Reading in August just to go and make sure that all was done in London and it was quite a difficult time, there was absolutely nothing I could do except to become a carer and a cleaner. You imagine from somebody who used to have caviar and champagne becoming somebody looking after elderly people and not managing to even buy a handbag for yourself, do what they call long days. I could not take money from home to bring it here, I wasn't there to sign all those things and I've never gone through a period like that in my life, and all the time I could not sleep thinking about my children.

Where was your husband at this point?

My husband died in 19, my husband died in 1999, my husband just decided he didn't want to live anymore, he woke up the next day and committed suicide for no apparent reason.

What year was that?

1999 in January so I've gone through quite a lot in my life and I've generally I've lost all my brothers, they've all died, my mother is dead, I'm the only person alive in my family with my two children. It became so difficult I couldn't use any lawyer, it was difficult but I think sometimes experience of working within the Foreign Ministry helped me because I managed to write a letter myself to the Minister of what they call the Secretary for Foreign Affairs here in the Home Office about my children because they denied them Visas to come in the British Embassy. And they responded and I started, demanded to the British High Commission in Zimbabwe to do that and I wrote a letter to them also with the concern on humanitarian grounds and according to the EU Regulations about family being separated and all that, my children didn't have a living parent in Zimbabwe, I was the only living parent. So having an insight about the little regulations that I used when writing letters they managed to get a Visa. They came over in January, they came on their own from Harare accompanied by the, of course air hostess, clearance and all that, and arrived from Zimbabwe in January on the 27th and I met them at the Gatwick airport.

Were you still living with your friend then?

I was still living with my friend because she had said that I should until I managed on my own. She was willing to take me in, my friend had her own two children, daughters, a husband was staying in a council flat with two bedrooms, but as you know with our African culture you just have to sort of, it becomes an extended family
.
As soon my children were coming she managed to sort of get a room for me to go and rent and she had helped me pay the deposit and all the other things, to go and stay with my children in that one room.

When they got to the airport, the air hostess who were escorting them out, I don't know, I just felt tearful, I couldn't believe that after six months I could see my children and they looked so thin and miserable and I was so, I'd lost a lot of weight, I was not the same person, I was never the Alice that they were used to, the vibrant Alice, the one who had the kind of diplomatic etiquette and everything, it had just gone. I took my children and went to the house, unbelievable for them, they were shocked when they got here, they couldn't, I mean I'm not, I'm not bragging about the way we lived in Zimbabwe, but we do live comfortably, they had a house which was massive, each child had had a bedroom, three bathrooms and all that and servants, garden, two cars, cars, everything used to happen to them. Coming from a mansion to come to live in a one bedroomed house, where there's no TV, where there's absolutely nothing, I think it was just devastating for them. My little daughter Tadiwa, when she started school, she could not even manage to speak and they had to bring in child psychologists to see what was happening because she was so traumatised in the aspect of what in the world is happening, why are we here, why are we in a one room and all that

Once your children arrived in the UK did you approach the council to see if they would help you with housing?

I didn't approach the council in, I didn't know that I had all those privileges, one way or the other and I think again also because of pride, being somebody who had always worked on my own and done things I never, I can never say like a refugee like what they say in the newspapers that refugees drain the benefit system and all that, I sustained myself with my two children with my carer's money, helped by my friend to baby-sit when I go to work and did everything on my own. I managed to save because my job was quite stressful, the one I was doing.

I say to myself I'd rather move in Reading there's vacancies of carers in Reading and decided that's the only thing I could do, I couldn't break the system in Foreign Affairs, one way or another through my experience, I knew that I would not get a job there, so I just went with the little that I could get at least to butter my bread, so that's how I moved to Reading

What year did you move back to Reading?

Because I'd arrived here in England in 2002 July and moved in to Reading in March 2003 and that's when I started working with the Reading Borough Council as a carer, in what they call a home carer. I was also helped by what I call, call my husband's relative, she found me a one bed flat which was a reasonably priced in Regal Street, my first address in Reading was 11A Regal Street, which is near the shops there.

Was that privately rented?

Yes privately rented and the rent was approximately about £600.

Well looking at it, I could manage to sort of, I shared a bedroom with my kids, it was furnished but I had to find two beds, I was helped by the Refugee Support Group here in Reading, to get extra beds. Things were really quite tight for me and came and stayed at that place and managed to register my children for school at New Christchurch School which is in Milman Road, where they started their school.

In the morning I'd take them to school and drop them, but my work was more or less flexible because I would finish approximately around one or two as a carer and then go and pick them again at three o'clock and be with them for the evening and all that. If I had to get an extra shift, I would ask my niece, to sort of baby-sit for me, because I really needed the money and I would work so hard.

I stayed in that place from March 2003 up to December 2003, when I saw that I could manage to sort of get a two bedroomed flat with my, the income that I had had and moved in to Highgrove Street, 33 Highgrove Street, where I got a two bedroomed house, when I moved in it's just behind Whitley Street, it's nearby so it was easy for me to walk with the children again, walk in to town.

One thing that I'd found with Reading again was it's quite accessible to any place that you want to go like going in to town it just takes you just five, ten minutes in town, it's very flexible and there's a lot of countryside, small town and all that where you can go and be with your kids and they feel much secure. You end up feeling the community helps you to look after your children in one way. There's one or two odd thugs but you rarely hear of incidents that are happening as great as other cities are and you know that one way or the other, things will be dealt properly if it's racial discrimination, it's done in a procedure where it's not over-ridden. Here there's different cultures here where you meet lots of black people, lots of Asian people, lots of different kind of people and you learn lots of things.

Do you meet lots of Zimbabweans in Reading?

There's a lot of Zimbabweans in Reading, I do a lot of things with Zimbabwe, what we call Zimbabwe network here, as you know with what I've said in my history. I'm also a member of Amnesty International, I'm a Vice Chairman of the Reading Refugee Support Group, I'm also currently formed a new African Voices Forum which was launched sometime last year. I do a lot of things, I'm also a volunteer for the National Institute of African Studies and Zimbabwe community is involved, so I'm quite actively involved in so many things. I also do the Reading Festival when it happens, I participate in the WOMAD, political and doing other things concerning diversity, cultural wise and everything, I've been doing it for the past, since I've been here in Reading. I'm going to be in Reading for almost, now it's over three years I've been in Reading, so I've been quite active.

I write a lot of stories with the local media, Reading Evening Post. I've written several articles about my coming to Reading, why I love Reading, and I help them if they want to do stories about Africans and their diversity, to make sure the paper itself is not only oriented with the local people, but also with a lot of diversified communities. It gives me, it gives them a different perspective. I'm involved with RISC and we do a lot of things. Being the Vice Chairman of the Refugee Support Group I see a lot of different people, again from different parts of the world. I went through hell myself when I came here, and that's why I really had to do something, being part and parcel of the Refugee Support Group, because it's first hand information that I have. I know how the other person is suffering, it's not somebody who has been sitting in her house who will tell a refugee what it is to be a refugee, although it's just a name at the end of the day.

How have your children settled now?

My children have settled very, very well, as you see they are not here, they've gone to sleep at friend's places and those friend's places are not what we call Zimbabwe people, they are natural British people, my eight year old has gone somewhere, my fourteen year old has gone somewhere. My fourteen year old is in to dancing and all this, she has participated recently on Monday in the Reading Carnival, she did Welsh dance today. They've integrated in to society and I've made sure they do because one way or the other, if you go to China, do what they Chinese do. There was no way I would tell them let's stay in the house and be ourselves because we are here and we don't know how long we are going to be, the only way you can integrate in to the society is being part of it.

Do they miss Zimbabwe?

They do miss Zimbabwe, but the other thing is that we cook the food here, we play the music here, we go to parties where we have are own Zimbabwean parties, we still do the traditional parties which we do like our weddings, our you know ball and marriages, they feel the value, I speak my own language, I've instilled that on my children and they speak Shona very much and they try to learn that, and I think that's very important that everybody should remain with their own families

So what's your plans for the future?

Well my plans for the future are political, can I be a Mayor of Reading one day, I think so. I think I've coped, I'm not ambitious as such, but I've got a lot of empathy, I work for social services, adults in community, I've done a lot of difference to several people. From a carer I've progressed and made sure that I got this job that I'm doing at the moment, not because of equal opportunities, because I could do something and I made sure that I got the job. I'm working as a Case Co-ordinator, planning to get trained and become a Social Worker. Contribute a lot to this community, make a difference to those that need it and do a lot with the community, continue lobbying with the Amnesty International about the rights of people, continue helping people with HIV in the community and also in Africa, making poverty history also, which are one of those things that I've done, going to Scotland. I want to make a difference in the world. It only takes a person to make a difference, it doesn't take a whole clan

If opportunity arises would you again get involved in politics in Reading?

I might say I'm very much involve in politics in certain ways because politics is not really about what you read at the university and become like a, you've got a political degree or whatever, it's what you believe in and the most important thing that I believe in is human rights. It has made me to be here in England because I thought there was lack of human rights in Zimbabwe and I spoke out about it and valued that and I think every person has a right to live a decent life. I'm sorry I didn't live a decent life when I came here, but I can't blame the system for that because, I mean in every aspect of life, everybody has to fight to get their way through and I did fight my way through four years down the line, I'm not complaining about anything, I've bought my house through the key worker scheme, I've got a stable life, I'm looking for a future with a career in the Reading Borough Council. I've had lots of haggles within the Reading Borough Council and I stand firm on what I believe in, never minding discrimination or prejudice against me, but I still stand on what I believe in and that's human rights.

Every person is a voice on their own. A voice does not necessarily mean speaking, a voice is practically what you do, it's a voice. Particularly how you cry, particularly how you look at people, how you dress, how you walk about, how you communicate with the rest of the world, how you persevere, that's what you call a voice. It's not about talking as being a politician talking, but what you do. The legal change that you make to one person who will tell the next person that she did make a lot of difference, I've done a lot of difference to many Zimbabweans, who believe I have political wise fought for their rights here, in the sense that now most Zimbabweans don't go home, they are not being sent home, but I had my own stay here, I used to go to London to make the protest, to say they should not be sent home, the judges revoked that and they're still not being sent home, so I made a difference in some aspects of my life. I've met signatories in Amnesty International concerning people who are imprisoned without charges and that is what we call a difference.

What are you saying then, that you're making Reading your home for the future?

I'm making Reading my home for the future unless something happens, but I still want to go home in the future, when I get old.

You miss Zimbabwe?

I do miss the sunshine, I do miss, I miss the food, I miss a lot of things, I miss the big houses, I miss all the other things that make in the values of a person. I miss just generally to be a Zimbabwean because since I was about twenty two years I have moved all over the world and travelled to different countries and really wanted to to make a difference in my country and stay and nurture my own family there, I miss a lot of it.

Is there anything else you want to tell us before we complete this interview?

Probably what I would like to say is that all to do with immigration and over emphasis, I've done something with the BBC South concerning statistics about refugees and my worry is still up to now about how people see refugees, their own perspective about refugees, asylum seekers, refugees, what are they? But unless you sit across me, when I'm walking down the street and coming to assess your mum and dad in their home, black as I am with my dreadlocks, you never see a refugee, you see somebody with empathy who wants to make a difference to somebody who is not from their own culture, but who values the other peoples culture, the diversity of people, diversity doesn't necessarily mean if you are British, everybody, it's Sunday roast dinner. Diversity means who you are as a person. African doesn't necessarily mean we eat salad and stew or we are loud, African means who you are, with your own perspective about life, your own voice, your own way that you carry yourself. You can't be categorised like people will say refugees and immigrants are the ones who make a lot of difference here in the UK, they've done a lot of difference in a lot of way. I am doing a great difference and I don't feel any bit ashamed of being a refugee.

But you love Reading?

The most important thing is I love Reading, I love Reading every time, I just walk out of here, I'm running to school, I don't have the pressure of going anyway. I've integrated so much that I've found good mothers here who are British who look after me like I am their own daughter. I've found families here who look after me as if I am their own child. I've found friends here from a diverse community, from the Asian community, from the White community, where I have felt comfortable with them. I've found that there are people who will listen here, the system here, Reading is, they listen to what you say, including Members of Parliament, the Council people, all those that are involved in service providing, the NHS wherever you are, the Education System, there's somebody who will listen to what you are saying, they will not take it as a file and put it aside, somebody will really listen and welcome you whoever you are and don't take it out of context.

Reading is just a place where you say, I can come here and stay here and retire and wont feel the hassles of being in a bustle and hustle town. It's just a place where you feel comfortable in every way.

I am touched, saddened, inspired and elated to have read this article. God bless you with a brilliant future and may all your dreams come true - till the day we will meet in the streets of Harare or SKYs for that matter !! Do not ever stop reaching for the stars and helping other people!!

Blessing, 10 April 2011

Love you mummy Such a brave and strong woman

Tadi , 28 December 2010

We have come a long way continue to praise him and he will continue to pour more blessings your way! It is an honour to know a great lady like you who has gone through so much and yet you never give up!

Mai Soyi, 18 September 2010

This is such an inspiring story especially for us younger Zimbabwean women. May God continue to smile on you and the girls. Love you loads x

Blessing, 13 September 2010

I am proud of you my sister in law alice . you really inspired me . love you more gal .God bless.tete judy

judith gumpo, 10 September 2010

I will feel differently about Reading now, knowing that it is home to remarkable people like Alice, Sapho...
It makes me wonder: do we deserve you, value you as we should?

peter ryley, 3 August 2010

A truly amazing woman. God broke the mould when he made Alice. One in a million - a spiritual inspiration and wonderful friend and mother.

wayne, 22 March 2010

What an inspiration. Would love to meet up again soon.
Love and Blessings.
God Bless.

Maria Goddard, 21 November 2009

I liked your story.Sad to know you lost so many family members but glad that you are an ambitious lady,focusing onto the future.Keep looking ahead,who knows what lies around the corner,you might end up being the mayoress.God bless you and your kids.

H.Tapatapa, 4 September 2009

Great inspirational reading Alice, GOD BLESS you in abundance.

Ntombi, 30 June 2008

You go gal. That was a thorough description, full of the ups and downs of your life. I loved it

tendy, 26 September 2007

dats great im proud of you dis is a true inspiration.
luv u alwaiis anti....x

mo , 29 May 2007

loved alices story and it was beautifully told.

robert riva, 28 May 2007

you really make us proud

owen, 30 January 2007

You are great dear. God bless you in abundance.

sisi OH , 28 January 2007

awwwww blesss you mummy

michelle, 4 January 2007

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