Out of Africa
PUBLISHED: 07:07 31 March 2014
April marks a momentous occasion for musician and businesswoman Anna Mudeka. For the first time, she is returning to her home country of Zimbabwe to perform in her own right at Bulawayo Festival of the Arts, and she clearly cannot wait.
“I am so excited as it is a festival which focuses on empowering women through the performing arts,” she says.
Such an opportunity seemed a lifetime away when she left her home country at 17 to study music in Norwich. “Looking back it seems incredibly young to have left, but I would never have had those opportunities as a woman in Zimbabwe.” says Anna, who lives in the small village of Southburgh, near Dereham, with her partner, poultry farmer Mark Gorton, and their two daughters.
A successful musician performing all over world, she also runs school workshops and adult classes teaching people about her music, dance and culture, and has her own charity, The Mudeka Foundation.
“In Zimbabwe if you showed interest in music it brought shame to the family,” she says. “The community starts questioning that interest in music. Who is going to marry you? You are working and socialising late at night, often with men. That taboo has to be broken. Luckily for me, my grandmother was a musician and she didn’t worry what others would say. Music was part of family life.”
Her township childhood was tough but happy, and she says her children Evie, seven, and Carly, four, are fascinated by her life in Africa.
“I really value what I grew up with. We slept on the floor and knew when we were hungry, but we were incredibly happy. Evie speaks my language and I feel really proud that they want to embrace my culture.”
Anna has recently been named overall winner in the arts and culture category of the Most Influential Women in Business and Government in Africa awards, an incredible achievement.
“My grandfather would take us to the airport in Zimbabwe to watch the planes, even though he couldn’t afford for us to fly anywhere, to show us there was opportunity out there. He made us want to be more than just girls from a township. That is where my motivation comes from, to try and inspire the next generation of women both here and in Africa.”
Returning for her mother’s funeral she visited her old school and was shocked by the conditions. “I came home and thought I am just an individual trying to make a living in the UK, what I can do? But it kept niggling at me.”
She collected furniture and equipment no longer needed by Norfolk schools and filled a shipping container to send to her old school. The headmistress was thankful but told Anna of the difficulties faced by the schoolchildren – of her 1,500 pupils, at least 500 of them were orphans, many as a result of HIV. Anna launched Southburgh Festival at their family home – a celebration of world music, dance and the arts – to raise funds to start sponsoring children in Zimbabwe, and raise awareness of their plight.
“The Mudeka Foundation is going from strength to strength and we are helping so many more children through direct sponsorship. Zimbabwe gave me the music to come to teach the children in Norfolk and now these children and their families are helping me give back to the children in Zimbabwe.”
When she arrives in Africa in April, she and members of the charity will continue their work transforming Muda High School, which has holes in the floor, cracks in the walls and not enough desks or benches.
“Initially the idea of the charity was to help get these children through primary school, but where do you stop? They are not ready for work or to look after themselves by that point, so what do you do? You can’t just leave it there.
“When you ask children in Zimbabwe what they want, it is never a toy, it is always an education. They walk miles to get to school as they know it is their future. We can’t promise them the childhood we had but I want to be able to promise them an education.”
March 8 marks International Women’s Day 2014 – and this year’s theme in ‘Inspiring Change’.
The global event celebrates the social, political and economic achievemnts of women while focusing attention on areas which need further action and ways to address inequalities. There are events, workshops and lectures happening round the world, with governments, charities, educational institutions, organisations and the media coming together to celebrate the day.