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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
Fleeing Zimbabwe for UK
Anna McKenna, 32, was born in Zimbabwe of parents who moved from the UK in 1958.

Amid increasing violence sparked by President Robert Mugabe's policy of seizing land owned by white farmers, she fled to London in May 2000.

She talks to BBC News Online about why she left, and the difficulties of building a new life abroad.

"I was getting very nervous," said Anna. "Law and order was breaking down, the crime rate was up, there was increasing racial hostility which wasn't there before."

Anna had built a successful career in advertising and media in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, before things suddenly started going wrong earlier last year.

Although Anna did not suffer the violence faced by many of her compatriots, she was getting "very nervous".

There was just a very unhealthy feeling of total injustice

Anna McKenna
"There was just a very unhealthy feeling of total injustice," she said. "It starts to penetrate all areas of life... there was no feeling of humanity, no feeling of justice."

It was almost impossible to lead a normal life, she said. People stopped socialising, and many spent their nights sleeping in queues for petrol.

Anna fled, at two weeks' notice, following a sudden increase of tension in May 2000.

"Things had got really bad but I thought it would blow over," she said. "I said I'd give it four or six months and then I'll be back, as soon as things sort out.

"I told my agency I'd be coming back, I asked them to hold my job open for me.

People queue in their cars for petrol
Fuel queues: Daily life had been growing "very difficult"
"Most people leave on that basis, you think it will blow over. But then it didn't."

Anna said she only realised how bad things were in Zimbabwe once she arrived in London.

"I couldn't believe the stress I'd been under," she said.

"I guess you adjust to stress levels, you realise how much low-grade stress you've been living with.

"Then you get here and people go out at night, they have fun.

"In Zimbabwe when a group of young people get together there's only one subject of conversation - and that's politics."

I guess you adjust to stress levels, you realise how much low-grade stress you've been living with

Anna McKenna
Anna says she feels "very, very sad, sad and very helpless" about the situation in Zimbabwe.

She believes the hostility was manufactured "to a huge extent" by the government.

And it was easy to provoke amid rising tension caused by economic problems such as inflation and the fuel crisis.

"Until recently things were pretty good, really," she said. "We were pretty integrated.

"The early 1980s, after the war of independence, were completely euphoric. They were great for Zimbabwe. Mugabe was a great hero of everyone, he was considered a good man.

"And in the 1990s it was OK, up until recently - it happened very, very quickly, suddenly after the millennium."


Many fleeing Zimbabwe do not find it easy to start a new life in the UK - not least because of the cost of starting over.

Many leave in a hurry, taking very little luggage or funds. It is all "quite disorientating," said Anna.

The early 1980s were great for Zimbabwe. Mugabe was a great hero of everyone, he was considered a good man

Anna McKenna
"I had nothing, I had absolutely nothing," she said. "I only had a 5 telephone card and about 30 in a bank account.

"In Harare I had a car and a nice house and a big garden, now I have a little room in Brixton.

"You've got to adjust to those sort of difficulties - but that's fine, that's fine. It's the homesickness, especially during the winter, and getting used to the community."

Anna found the first few months very lonely - and then there was the difficulty of finding a job. Employers appear to consider that Zimbabweans have only "third world experience", she said.

Anna ended up typing in hospitals, before doing an evening course in teaching English as a foreign language, and finding seasonal employment as a teacher.

"No-one I know has managed to find a job doing what they were trained to do," she said. "All these people are well qualified and they have to go and do filing or lorry driving."

Aerial view of Harare
Out of Africa: Anna left a successful advertising career in Harare
Anna also worries about the welfare of relatives remaining in Zimbabwe. She left behind her parents, a stepmother, a sister, a brother-in-law and their two children.

"They're in quite a bad area at the moment," she said. "They have amazing optimism but I don't think they hear the news that we hear."

Anna still dreams of going back to Zimbabwe, although she does not hold out much hope of doing so.

"No-one wants to leave," she said. "I certainly didn't want to leave but it's impossible to stay.

"I miss the space, I miss the sunshine.

"It's home. This can never really be home."

See also:

16 Aug 01 | Africa
Airlift plan for Zimbabwe Britons
14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
04 Jul 00 | Africa
Forced to flee Zimbabwe
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe targets more white farms
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