From grief and fear to over here: On 6 August 1972 Idi Amin pronounced his expulsion order and 30,000 embattled Ugandan Asians headed for Britain. What did they find here and what have they made of it? Sandra Barwick reports

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'I saw the beautiful tunnel leading from the plane with the bright lights,' says Raj Nakarja. 'I thought I was in heaven. Twenty years ago this month Raj landed at Heathrow airport. He was 16. For him the flight from Entebbe had seemed an adventure that had fortuitously delivered him to a city paved with chocolate: for his parents it had been mere grief and fear.

They were part of the influx of about 30,000 Ugandan Asians, holders of British passports, ordered out of Uganda with 90 days' notice on 6 August 1972 by the dictator Idi Amin. At home the soldiers of his regime were already reflecting their leader's cruelty, and African resentment - which had been widespread even before Amin came to power - of Asian prosperity, by looting and, in some cases, murdering.

At a stroke, almost everything material they possessed, often the result of two generations' work, was taken. Cars were left in drives, furnished homes, complete businesses abandoned. Idi Amin had imposed a crude form of equality through robbery on those whose cars and houses his people had envied. Except for a very few of the ultra- rich, who had stored money abroad, it was an equality of poverty. In the few minutes it took to read his proclamation, Amin had put them back to square one on the board.

And it was into a difficult new system that the three families of this story stepped, bewildered, penniless and frightened, as they entered the dazzle of Heathrow's terminal.

It contained an official welcome, but it also held hostility and fear. In London, Smithfield porters marched against an influx they said was an invasion. 'These people are creating problems for my people. Unless something is done there will be a fierce reaction from some English people,' warned one of them, Daniel Harmstone, that August. Many believed him, especially in poorer boroughs, where those waiting in the queue for council flats resented the idea that these landing aliens would be given priority, and the social security system bled. Their poverty, most assumed, made them inevitably dependent.

The fear of being swamped was bolstered by the speeches of Enoch Powell, then Conservative MP for Wolverhampton SW, who warned of thousands more who held British passports, and might at any time also be driven into exile. Local authorities, many of them Labour-controlled, pleaded that the refugees should not be sent to them. Ealing, in west London, covering Southall, asked to be excused. Leicester, which also already had a large Asian community, went so far as to advertise in September 1972 in the Ugandan Argos, saying it was already over- stretched and warning 'settlers' to go to 'places less overcrowded', an advert that had the effect of planting the name 'Leicester' more firmly in many heads. About 6,000 ended up there, much to the town's initial dismay. The idea that penniless refugees might prove an asset was canvassed - by a Heath government anxious to reassure - but very few believed it.

YOUNG Raj Nakarja, gloriously unaware of Ealing council's dismay, made his way from Heathrow with his parents, his younger sister and brother, to Southall. There, two of his elder brothers, who had emigrated from Jinja a few years earlier, already had houses. These small terraced dwellings came as Raj's first shock. 'In Uganda, we used to say 'our brothers have bungalows in Southall,' ' he said. 'I thought they would be like a bungalow in our home town of Jinja, with 20 rooms and a big garden.'

He was distracted from disappointment when a brother gave him cash for chocolate. For two days Raj glutted himself on this, an expensive luxury back home, in between admiring the plentiful traffic lights on Ealing's streets. Meanwhile his family decided on action. Raj was the eighth in a family of nine brothers and one sister - so large that the brothers had grown used to referring to one another by numbers for convenience. They embarked on a programme of intensive work and saving.

'I lived in the house of brother No 4,' said Raj. 'He was mad, he worked so hard, 20 hours a day, packing coffee for Lyons. His house was so immaculate he used to Hoover the place and then use Mr Sheen on the Hoover.' Raj got a job making ice creams, where the cleaning chlorine made his arms red raw, while his brother Bharat, No 7, overcame his repulsion (they were Hindus, and vegetarian) and took a job in a meat factory, cleaning trays.

Having taken jobs no one wanted, they worked round the clock, aiming to house themselves. Bharat became an accounts clerk, filling in the weekends by driving a mini-cab, and some of his evenings on the till in a petrol station. The family worked together to help each member prosper. When Raj married in 1974, 'brother No 2 was living in Slough. He said, come and live with me. I will not charge you. Save your money'. He and his wife worked hard for three years, by which time they had saved pounds 11,000 and bought a house.

Bharat meanwhile had gone to Canada, where he found work as a bouncer, and a degree of Western decadance: 'You learn to be alone,' he said. 'Not to take the sisters-in-law for granted that they will cook for you. I went out with six girls] When I came back to England I was a Romeo. I was like an Englishman, I did not save at all, I spent it all on a good time.'

The family intervened. The brothers got together and told their erring sibling, at that time going out with an Irish girl, it was time to marry. Quelled, but not entirely crushed, Bharat went to India with his father to find a bride. 'Each girl he saw, Dad said: 'Nice girl, why not marry her?' I said: 'Dad, do me a favour. It's up to me.' '

Safely married to a nice Gujarati girl of his choice, Bharat returned to England. Few Ugandan Asians have married outside their race. 'Inter-caste marriages work here,' said Bharat. 'But inter-race marriages usually don't. It's just too difficult for everybody trying to adapt.'

After his return, Bharat's brothers set him up in a shop. A mere two years later a family row erupted over who was doing the most work and Bharat walked out. Even Asian family businesses, bolstered by traditions of family discipline, are not trouble free. But this time the reformed Romeo had saved pounds 11,000, and, as important, had retail experience. At once, in 1982, he rented a newsagent's shop in west London. 'It was filthy, half stocked, there were punks behind the counter. It was taking pounds 900 a week. I could see the potential.' In the first week he took pounds 1,500. Soon he was reconciled with his brothers. 'Kicking me out was the best thing they ever did,' he said. Now 38 in number, they hold regular family meetings, with a pounds 10 fine for any brother who fails to show. Not only do they club together to pay all their parents' bills, but they recently bought them a house.

But the pressure of long hours is, after 20 years, beginning to feel relentless. 'If I could see that tunnel from Heathrow now I would say it was hell as well as heaven. There is so much stress here,' says Raj.

RANCHHOD Bhadeshia, who was 40 when Amin made his proclamation, stayed in Masaka as long as he could, unwilling to leave the metal and woodwork business, employing 10 people, built up since his grandfather emigrated to Uganda from the Gujarat in India.

He had recently finished building a block of six shops with his home over them, with a flat roof where the children could safely play. In September all hope of saving something from the past years died. A soldier came to the door with a gun. They had 24 hours to get out. Ranchhod, his wife, his three children, his parents, and his grandmother, packed their bags.

At Heathrow they showed Mr Bhadeshia a map. He looked at it blankly. He spoke Gujarati and was fluent in Bantu. In English he could say only 'no' and 'yes'. So they put the family on a bus. They arrived in the dark at a house. The following morning they looked out of the windows. 'We were shocked,' said Mr Bhadeshia. 'We had come from a country where everywhere were soldiers. And everywhere we looked were soldiers still.' They had been sent to a resettlement camp

at Greenham Common, Berkshire.

Here they showed him a map of Britain again. Scotland, they suggested brightly. (In line with the policy of dispersal, several families were settled there but most, experiencing intense isolation, soon left.) Mr Bhadeshia responded with almost the only fact he knew about Britain. 'A friend had said, Scotland, very cold.' After two months they were found a council house in Cheltenham, reprieved from demolition due to this emergency. In Cheltenham there was no Hindu temple and few Asians. Social workers tried to make them feel at home on the first night by taking them to the local Indian for a curry.

The youngest son, Paresh, aged eight, and his sister were taken to school. At lunchtime the headmistress insisted to their horror that the two small vegetarians should eat up their nice sausage. Meanwhile their mother went shopping in sign language, and their father, a former company director, walked the streets, as he was to do for three months, asking at factory gates for work in the few English words he knew. Quickly he learnt two strange ones: 'experience' and 'qualifications'. 'I know the work,' he told them. 'I have no English papers because I have not been here, but I can do the work.'

When eventually he was given a chance as a fitter they found he did. For six months he worked seven days a week to support his family. The Ugandan Asians' task as immigrants was harder than that of others, for they had to bring many elderly people. The Commission for Racial Equality found in a 1974 survey that 45 per cent could not speak English and 54 per cent were caring for the elderly and sick. Still, the Bhadeshias battled on. Mrs Bhadeshia tried to find work, but failed. By 1981 the family was faced with a new problem: Paresh had left school and seemed to be drifting. The idea that he, too, might end in a factory worried Mr Bhadeshia. The solution the family found was typical: to create their own employment. They leased a shell of a shop, made shelves from old planks, stacked them on credit, and, while Mr Bhadeshia continued in the factory, worked 14- hour days to keep it going. When Paresh remembers those days, he groans.

The news of the expulsions came to Jayanti Chandarana, then 37, in Geneva, where he was on holiday with his wife. All four of their children, the eldest nine, the youngest a year old, were at home in Uganda. Friends warned Mr Chandarana not to return. A partner in one of his businesses had already died. 'One morning,' he said, 'army people came to his house. They said: 'Where are your keys?' He was put in the boot of his Mercedes and taken away. Two days later his family found his body. They could not recognise his face. A friend had recently come back from London and given him a shirt from M & S, and they recognised that.'

Mrs Chandarana, on whose passport the children were, returned to Uganda alone. At Entebbe airport customs officers stripped the bangles from her arms and the ear-rings from her ears. Humiliated, but safe, she and the children flew on to London, and rock bottom. In Uganda the family business had been substantial, including filling stations, car dealerships, and a building materials company. Now they had only their holiday spending money. After some thought, Mr Chandarana chose Leicester as his new home.

'My parents did not speak English,' he said. 'I heard they would be happiest there, near a temple and so on.' Soon he began to try to buy and sell cars. There was no showroom this time; none of his 40 employees. Mr Chandarana, who had never washed a car in his life, would buy a car in Leicester in the morning, clean it by hand, drive it down to London to sell in the afternoon, and return by midnight.

His wife, who had previously only known a life with nannies, drivers and cooks, looked after the family and helped to clean the cars. Like Mr Bhadeshia and most Ugandan Asian immigrants, they were not hampered by the idea that any job was beneath their pride.

By 1970 enough capital had been saved for Mr Chandarana to start, with a partner, a small knitting company. At last he could use his real skills, of management. Though it was a business new to him, he could see the problem. It was impossible to get his garments finished and dyed fast enough to beat the threat from cheap imports. Within two years he had bought a dyeing company. And, like hundreds of new Asian businesses in the city, it prospered.

'It is a mini Hong Kong here now,' he said. 'My factory can deliver an order in a week, sometimes in 24 hours. There are so many small textile companies here, they are flexible and fast. So we can fight off imports by sheer speed.'

Last year he bought another dye factory, and two of his children have joined him in the business. He now employs 60 people: the number of jobs created by his compatriots in Leicester, the city that wanted to turn them away, has been estimated in thousands.

Within 20 years all three families, typical of Ugandan Asian immigrants, had worked their way back close to the positions they had lost. Mr Chandarana now lives in a five- bedroom house with a swimming pool outside Leicester. Last month he flew to Uganda. Now that the Ugandan government, with pressure from the World Bank, is asking Asian citizens to build businesses there again, Mr Chandarana hopes he may be able to build up his firm by linking it with a regenerating raw cotton industry.

In Cheltenham Mr Bhadeshia, too, though he still works in the same factory as a fitter, now owns a three-bed bungalow in its leafy suburbs. The shop has been sold and Paresh has joined Gloucestershire police force, where, he says, much to his surprise, he has found no racism at all.

Bharat Nakarja's shop in west London prospered, too. He has a house near Windsor for weekends and, jointly with his brothers, a house in India.

The success and urge to independence of these three families, general among the Ugandan Asians who entered Britain, are impressive. The old formula that served generations of immigrants from Huguenots to Jews still works: strong family links, pooled resources, clear religious beliefs of duty and responsibility, still evidently works. What Amin's thugs could not loot from their luggage was what they carried in their minds, their work-ethic and their business knowledge.

As a result of that lesson this generation has invested in education, sending their children to private schools where they can, hoping they will become professionals. In many cases they have, though in others, the schools have not proved to be the greenhouses for talent their parents hoped. One Ugandan Asian supermarket owner currently working from 6am to 11pm told me: 'The next generation will not work as we do. My son is 14. He is on holiday from his private school. When I ask him to come and help, he says no. All the mornings he is asleep in bed.'

There are other potential drawbacks to success. Near the Belgrave Road, the area of Leicester transformed by Asian enterprise from run-down terraced dreariness to a colourful parade of shops and businesses, I asked a local white woman if there was any resentment of Asians in the city. 'Oh yes,' she said. 'They ride about in those big cars. You keep an eye out. Every Merc you see - like as not, it'll have an Asian in it. Of course there's resentment. These days they seem to get anything they want.'

It is the lot of strangers in any country, that if they do not prosper they are regarded as dangerous parasites, and if they do well they are envied. It is not the first time Ugandan Asians have heard similar words, for the irony of their success is that in more than one way they have returned to their old position. In the 1970s in Kampala the locals said almost the same.

(Photograph omitted)

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