Armed with nothing but a little experience as a sales executive, a desperate 25-year-old Munyaradzi Sajanga, left behind an inconsolable three-year-old son, to go hunting in faraway lands.
For the naïve mother of one, England, her destination, was the magic wand not just for her problems but those of her entire family. She did not even feel the discomfort of the 13-hour plus journey on a direct flight from Harare to London, despite that “Mazarura” as Air Zimbabwe is often referred to, had no in-flight entertainment.
According to Tauya Mushonga aka Shumba, another Zimbabwean based in the United Kingdom (UK), “Sometimes we would be lucky to be on the same flight with Tuku (the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi) because he would take out his guitar and play us some tunes.”
Munya had no such luck of bumping into the superstar – but the adrenaline and excitement of better prospects in a distant land kept her well-fuelled. The search for greener pastures was not Munya’s only motivation – her husband had just died – leaving her to care for a toddler, so she wanted a distraction as she pondered a way to raise her son by herself.
Munya (third from left) with her son Augustine (right), mother Praxedes and little brother Alois in Johannesburg, South Africa
In an interview with The Sunday Mail in Luton, England, Munya remembered how she felt tortured as her baby wailed at the airport.
“As I boarded the plane, I felt excited but also upset to be leaving my son behind. I will never forget how he cried at the airport when I left him in my mother’s arms,” said Munya, lost in thought.
She added: “I comforted myself. I told myself I would not stay in the UK for too long. I had huge expectations and had not planned to stay for over six months. I would work, earn some money and return home to my family.”
How wrong she was, 17 years later, Munya is still holed up in the UK. But how did it all pan out for someone who left Harare without a visa, only getting a two-week tourist pass upon arrival at Gatwick Airport?
“It was not until two weeks after arriving here that I began to realise that it was not what I had expected at all. I found it very difficult being away from my son and my family – working jobs that I never imagined existed.
“I was a sales executive when I left Zimbabwe. I thought I would find something along those lines. But my first job was in a chiller (freezer). Two weeks later I could not do it anymore. Even though the money was good – I could not work there anymore,” said Munya, adding, “this was however just the beginning.”
From an initial visa of just two weeks, to attempting to raise enough money to return home in six months, Munya was indeed learning that all that glitters is not gold.
“Most people who come here do not get proper advice, especially the team that came in the early 2000s and before. Someone should have told me back then that I needed to be patient and get a proper visa that would enable my stay to be smooth.
“However, we were lucky because back then it was not easy for the Home Office to track us down. So we just blended in and did the oddest of jobs. I got an office job but the money was not good. By then six months had already gone. As I tried to shift gears, a year had lapsed. I wanted more money, so I got into care work (kugeza machembere). That job pushed me for five years.”
For Munya, the plan of going back home was not working out. She simply could not find a better paying job, riots back home intensified, and there was hyperinflation. Unable to continue operating without her son, she arranged that he joins her in the UK.
“I had to find a way to stay in UK and find a better job to give my son the life I had sought out to build for him in the first place. So I sought asylum,” said Munya.
Ten years after she had landed in the UK, Munya finally got her papers to stay in the UK legally.
“I got my papers in 2012. Immediately I bought myself a ticket and went to meet my mom and siblings in South Africa. It was the best day of my life.”
Later, she met and married Hassan Nyangoni, a fellow Zimbabwean. They started a freight business together.
“I did two jobs – shipping and telemarketing work. After two months I realised that I was losing business at my own company, World Cargo International. I decided to concentrate on my shipping business.
“I told myself that if it didn’t work I could always go back to the other job. We worked from my kitchen, then we got a warehouse and an office as business continued to boom. I never went back to work for anyone.”
She has since become a full-fledged businesswoman – running her own company, which incorporates a multi award-winning community radio station, Pamtengo Radio.
When Star FM’s 3-2-6 Express team of KVG and Phathisani were in the UK last month, and even the year before – they broadcast from Munya’s Pamtengo. Her businesses, of course, with her husband Hassan, have become her mainstay.
Now a blossoming young man, her son Augustine, is finding his feet. Munya is happy that her efforts as a mother have brought about a better life for her son.
“That is what every mother wants in life. To be a good parent and to chart a clearer path for their children,” said Munya.
Munya’s story is a cycle of selfless motherhood. Her story should inspire millions of mothers around the world, who give life, nurture it and continue to wish only the best for their child.
“While I may look like a hero to my son now and others out there, I also pay tribute to my mom, who had to become a mother to my son as well when I went away. But I’m happy that I have made her life better as well.”
Munya has some advice for mothers and aspiring mothers out there: “It is difficult because every situation is different and we all have different circumstances and come from different backgrounds. However, I would say follow your heart, be persistent and never give up on your dreams.
“We may be forced to leave our children behind so as to provide a better future for them. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but it does not mean that we should stop trying.”
Munya concluded the interview by telling us that her story represents the experiences of thousands of Zimbabweans that leave home in search of better lives elsewhere. She said she longs to be back home but does not when it would be possible to do so. The Sunday Mail