‘Paddington Bear was a refugee with a label – ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’, and he had a little suitcase. ‘ – Michael Bond
Was I a refugee with nothing except freedom? I didn’t consider myself to be a refugee at the time. But I certainly had nothing except my freedom. What exactly is a refugee? According to www.dictionary.com, refugee:a person who flees for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in times of political upheaval, war, etc…
‘Refugees are not terrorists, they are often the first victims of terrorism.’ Antonio Guterres
Did I qualify as a refugee with nothing except freedom? Based on the above definition, indeed, I was. Here’s my true life story of how I became a refugee. Read it, then you decide.
‘Freedom is never given; it is won.’ – A. Philip Randolph
Although I was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia, I was living in a small town called Vila Pery in Mozambique. During the three years that I lived there, Portugal sent her young soldiers to Mozambique to fight a bush war against Frelimo. This war from 1964 to 1974 took many lives. It was later called the war of independence. I was in Mozambique during the transition from a predominantly Catholic Portuguese government to the Marxist-Leninist Frelimo, which led to a one-party State.
‘Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish?’ – Epictetus
The transition was far from smooth, even within the small community of Vila Pery. Everyone kept hoping for the best. Unfortunately, due to the turbulent events all around us we had to go into denial in order to remain optimistic. It was a frightening and unsettling period. I prefer not to recount the gory details of the atrocities that occurred during the transition. There sweeping arrests as well as murderous rumor-fed riots where thousands or white Portuguese were massacred. It was not an easy hand over from the Portuguese Catholic government to the Frelimo Communist based system.
‘Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.’ – Noam Chomsky
Many Portuguese families returned to Portugal or fled to other countries in Africa, such as Rhodesia or South Africa. The remaining Portuguese people who held leadership positions, such as bank managers, were quickly singled out and subjected to public humiliation, beatings, and degradation. There were also many three AM morning raids, where people were herded into trucks and were never seen again.
‘To conquer a nation, first, disarm its citizens’. – Adolph Hitler
The Frelimo soldiers holding FN rifles manned road blocks at all entry and exit roads of every town. Papers had to be shown and cars were searched for weapons. Freedom was being restricted with more and more restraints each day.
‘The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions.’ – Adolph Hitler
Propaganda played a huge role in the transition. It was aimed and dividing and causing distrust between cultures. Usually, blame for every adversity was aimed at the ‘rich’. The rich was anyone with a white skin. Generally, the finger of blame was pointed at the Portuguese. Then later, when there were very few Portuguese left, it shifted to the Rhodesians and South Africans too. Riots in all the major cities were brutal. Sadly many innocent women and children were massacred during the frenzy. In Vila Pery, we also had our share of mass rioting which seemed to be sparked by nothing more than malicious rumors.
‘Its true that liberty is precious – so precious that it must be rationed.’ – Lenin
I moved out to the farm where I had five horses, an Alsatian dog, and a Siamese cat. I was content to stay in Mozambique and ride out the storm. Life became controlled by communist committees. These ruling committees controlled every move and every aspect of life in every community. One could hardly move without having to get permission from one committee or another. It was during the tightening of the noose by the various levels of committees, that I received information about my imminent arrest. My name had been seen on an arrest list. I was to be sent off to a rehabilitation center. What was my crime? I was Rhodesian.
Goals of Marxism: 1) Destroy the family. 2) Destroy private property. 3) Destroy Religion. 4) Destroy the Nation.
As far as we knew, nobody ever came back from the ‘rehabilitation centers’. Evidently the centers were hastily fenced in internment compounds, deep in the bush. According to the rumors, conditions were shocking. Lack of food, shelter, and medication, combined with malaria and dreadful sanitary conditions turned these ‘centers’ into death camps. In addition to the physical squalor, apparently propaganda was played over loudspeakers non-stop, day and night.
‘Freedom lies in being bold.’ – Robert Frost
As much as it broke my heart, I knew that I had to leave right away. I quietly made arrangements for the continued care of my animals. I dared not say goodbye to anyone for fear that it would get back to Frelimo.
‘Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre
Although I did not have the necessary paperwork from the various committees to cross the border, I drove my friend’s car towards Umtali, Rhodesia. I did no take anything except for my Rhodesian passport and a few Rhodesian dollars. My plan was to tell the Customs and Immigration officials, (who had yet to be sent back to Portugal) that my child in Rhodesia had fallen ill and I had to get to him right away. Therefore, because it was an emergency, I did not have the necessary paperwork.
‘A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.’ – Amelia Earhart
Lucky for me, my Chickens Came Home to Roost. For years, I had been kind to the officials working at the border post. I felt sorry for them because they had a lot of responsibility but very little pay. So for the past year or so, almost every time I crossed the border, I took them a huge box filled with cartons of eggs as well as a dozen frozen chickens from the chicken farm where I lived. I did not take anything during this crossing attempt, in case it was perceived as a bribe.
‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,
And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin‘ but it’s free…’ – Kris Kristofferson, (‘Me and Bobby McGee)
Fortunately for me, they let me through without recording that I had even been there. I was free. I truly understood the meaning of the song, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…’ I was free but I had nothing other than the loan of a car and the clothes on my back. I had no home to go to. I no Living in Rhodesia was no longer an option as it was evident that it would not be long before it shared the same fate as Mozambique.
‘I could not have made it this far had there not been angels along the way.’ – Della
There were no refugee camps for the thousands fleeing Mozambique. But even if there were, it would not have occurred to me to go there. I felt blessed because all sorts of kind people helped me along the way. Sometimes the help came in the form of an encouraging word, or a meal or a place to stay.
‘If life knocks you down, roll over and look at the stars.’ – Unknownb
A Rhodesian friend of mine who was a student in South Africa offered to pay for fuel if I would drive him there. Once in South Africa, the car was returned to it owner while I stayed with one of my sisters for a short time. I discovered what it was like to go without food for several days in a row. I met strangers who fed me and were very kind to me. Particularly some Americans were so very generous and helped me out more than they’ll ever know.
‘We meet no ordinary people in our lives. If you give them a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer.’ Unknown
To cut a long and difficult story short, I eventually found a position at a family owned motel, in rural Zululand. Even though I was English, this Afrikaans family gave me a job, a roof over my head, with free meals daily and a paycheck to boot. It was a very healing time for me. While working there, I met an American construction engineer, who later became my husband.
‘The ache for home lives in all of us.’ Maya Angelou
I fled Mozambique and I felt that I couldn’t return to my native country, Rhodesia because there was no future for me there. I went to South Africa. Even though I did not have a home or decent clothes for employment, I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful motel receptionist position, which met the needs of all concerned.
‘Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.’ – Unknown
Technically I was a refugee, but I never saw myself that way. I just wanted to pick myself up and
start again. I did lose the roots of my homeland, and I needed time to heal which the position in the Zululand motel offered me. Eventually, thanks to my wonderful husband, I gained the wings of the world. This year we celebrated forty years together.
What do you think? Was I a person who fled for refuge or safety, especially to a foreign country, as in a time of political upheaval or war?