‘Hello again, my dear wife – it’s been a long 20 years…’

The story of how a Zimbabwean family reunited – after nearly two decades apart. Pythias Makonese tells his story.

It is not easy to sustain a marriage when the husband and wife live thousands of miles apart for almost two decades.

A lot marriages would collapsed under these circumstances. Somehow – thanks to the patience of my wife, Nomia, and the help of the Leicester branch of the British Red Cross – we managed to not only keep strong but to re-unite. This is our story.

Nomia Vongai Makonese, 58, a mother of five children landed at Heathrow airport, accompanied by her youngest daughter, Florence, 22, on December 5, 2020. I was there to meet them. At long last, we were together.

This is a story that goes back a long way.

After my teaching qualification, I started work as a teacher in 1978 at a primary school and taught for seven years before I got married. I married Nomia in a Civil Court at Mvuma, Zimbabwe in May 1985. We settled down and raised five children – one boy and four girls.

For 17 years, we lived together and looked after our family. I worked as a teacher. Life was good.

In 1980, there was a change of government in our country as the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) took over from Rhodesian Front (R.F.) headed by Ian Douglas Smith.  

An opposition political party, Movement for Democratic Change, was formed in 1999 led by Morgen Tsvangirai. Most teachers were aligned to the opposition party and were considered enemies of the then-ruling ZANU. This is allowed in England. It’s the nature of politics in a democracy. It wasn’t in my home country.

Many teachers became political victims. The pressure was so great I felt I had to leave my job, my home, family and move to England. This was 2002 and I had been accused of supporting the MDC when I invited the local parliament (MDC) to an annual general meeting of a School Development Association. 

My story for fear of political persecution was not believed by the Home Office when I applied for refugee protection in the United Kingdom. It took 10 years for the UK to believe me, when I finally won my appeal case.

When I gained refuge protection, I used my news status to try to bring about a family reunion – to bring over my wife and my youngest daughter.

This was refused in 2018. But I was determined and appealed again. This time, I was successful.

Still, it took a whole year – red tape, forms, officials – before we could get the travel documents.

The date was set. April 4, 2020. They were all set to board the plane – and the flight was cancelled because of the COVID pandemic.

The reunion was put back another eight months.

It was the end of a tough chapter for Nomia, raising the couple’s children single-handedly.

“I was just thrilled to meet my husband,” she said. ” I last met him in October 2002 back in Zimbabwe.”

Its as also a joyous day for Florence. “I was only four year old when my father left me and had only a faint idea on how he looks,” she said. “I am very happy to meet him and will be the happiest child on earth to stay with him unlike in the past when I used to talk to him over the phone.”

Florence is now 22, and aims to further her education, and hopes her siblings can join her one day.

It’s been a long and difficult process to get this far. But the lesson here is that no matter how tough it has been, people want to be with the ones they love the most.

If you have that – and the help of the Leicester branch of the Rad Cross – then anything is possible.