Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut July 22, 2016 - 11:30 am

Zimbabwean refugee fights for freedom back home, from Nunavut

"I'm not free because my family and friends are still in Zimbabwe”

THOMAS ROHNER
Zimbabwe-born Francisca Mandeya, one of several dozen Zimbabweans who have made homes in Iqaluit, is fighting for her people's rights from the relative security of her Canada. But she also fears potential backlash against family members back in the southern African country. (PHOTO COURTESY F. MANDEYA)
Zimbabwe-born Francisca Mandeya, one of several dozen Zimbabweans who have made homes in Iqaluit, is fighting for her people's rights from the relative security of her Canada. But she also fears potential backlash against family members back in the southern African country. (PHOTO COURTESY F. MANDEYA)

“I’m safe, but I’m not safe.”

That’s how Zimbabwe-born Francisca Mandeya, who arrived in Iqaluit as a convention refugee in 2015, describes her activism from the relative safety of her new home country.

“Fighting from the outside has given me a sense of freedom, but I’m not free because my family and friends are still in Zimbabwe,” Mandeya said over the phone July 21 from Ottawa, where she is currently on holiday from her job with the Government of Nunavut.

It’s not your ordinary holiday, though.

Since Mandeya’s vacation began, widespread social unrest has once again erupted in Zimbabwe in opposition to worsening living conditions under long-time authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe.

Unemployment in the southern African country is around 90 per cent and millions are near starvation as the country’s agriculture sector has collapsed.

About 300 protesters were arrested between July 6 and July 14, according to the British news site The Guardian.

So Mandeya decided to do what she’s always done: help fight injustice in Zimbabwe, this time online and in Canadian cities.

“I know how the Zimbabwe government will respond to protesters. People are going to disappear and die. So I thought, maybe while I’m here in Canada, I can do my small part. It made me so angry knowing this was going on at home, I wrote a petition, which didn’t take me long to write because it came pouring from my heart.”

That petition, asking the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to ensure Zimbabweans enjoy basic human rights, has garnered nearly 16,000 signatures in a little more than a week.

“Abduction and murder are real for those who dare challenge the system. We need support of other people to raise our voices and assure that no one will be harmed because they are peacefully pursuing justice,” Mandeya wrote on the petition.

“We are telling the government we are tired but not scared anymore. They’ve raped and killed and threatened us to keep quiet,” she told Nunatsiaq News.

Widespread social issues are not new in Zimbabwe, where Mandeya said the economy, which uses the U.S. dollar and imports more goods than it exports, has collapsed under Mugabe’s leadership.

But people are not allowed to talk publicly about those issues for fear of Mugabe’s force “descending upon them,” said Mandeya, now a permanent resident of Canada.

“I was a victim of that force, I was threatened to be disappeared because I was fighting for my rights. I could tell you a lot of stories as someone who has challenged the government and asked for truth and accountability.”

During Zimbabwe’s fight for independence in the 1970s, Mandeya, a child at the time, saw her parents beaten by forces resisting liberation.

But since then, and since Mugabe came into power in 1980, the violence against Zimbabweans has come not from colonizers but from other Zimbabweans.

“The worst colonization comes from your own people, when they all let you down after colonization because they’re all busy looking out for their own interests,” Mandeya said.

There are about 30 or 40 other Zimbabweans who now call Iqaluit home, Mandeya said, who understand what that “worst colonization” looks and feels like.

“Some people from Zimbabwe ask me how I can live where it’s so cold. And I tell them it is cold, but the people are so warm and nice. I can express myself without fear of personal harm. I’m very grateful to be in Iqaluit and in Canada.”

To view or sign Mandeya’s petition, you can click here.

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