Refugee to lead Holocaust Memorial Day

Published Thursday, 24th January 2019
Sile Sabanda speaking at an event
Sile Sabanda speaking at an event

At just 10 years old Sile Sibanda’s world was turned upside down.

Her idyllic childhood playing with her friends in the Zimbabwean countryside came to an abrupt end as her mother was forced out of their homeland to seek work elsewhere. The brutal regime under former president Robert Mugabe meant money was scarce and food was hard to come by.

Despite being a qualified teacher, her mother Sithule Moyo was unable to earn enough money to feed her family so she set off for England in the hope of securing work and a new beginning.

For two years Sile and her sister didn’t see their mother, speaking only occasionally over the phone.

Finally Sithule was able to send for them to come and live with her in her new home in Rotherham, after she successfully applied for asylum.

“We were with our relatives in Zimbabwe,” says Sile, who is now 21. “But it is never the same as having your mother. It was really hard without her and I missed her so much. It broke my heart to be separated from her. I couldn’t wait to finally be able to see her again.”

Arriving in Britain was a shock for the young sisters. “I just remember thinking it was so cold,” laughs Sile, who is now at university in Derby studying Forensic Science with Psychology. “The first thing we did was buy some jumpers to wear. And I remember being so amazed when it snowed as I had never seen snow before.

“But the main thing I remember was just how kind people were. Yes over the years I have felt some prejudice but in the main everyone has been so lovely and welcoming. I really feel this is my home now.”

Sile is also a poet, and she often goes on stage to perform her poetry. And this year she will be one of the main speakers at Rotherham Council’s Holocaust Memorial Day event in All Saints’ Square, on Monday.

She will be joined by pupils from St Mary’s Primary School and St Bernard’s Secondary School choirs as well as Rabbi Yonason Golomb – from the Sheffield Synagogue. Year 6 pupils from St Ann’s Junior and Infant School will perform hits from the Greatest Showman and local singer songwriter Nic Harding will close the event with her especially composed song “Torn From Home”, which captures this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme.

Council Leader Cllr Chris Read, who will also speak at the event, said: “In remembering the darkest corner of human history, the systematic extermination of six million Jewish people alongside millions of others including Roma and traveller communities, Russians, Eastern Europeans, and lesbian and gay people, we are reminded every year of the terrible consequences of forgetting our common humanity. This year we will also remember more recent atrocities like the genocide in Rwanda, which happened 25 years ago this year.

“Personal stories like Sile’s help us to get an understanding of what horrors some families have to endure and are still enduring today, and that we cannot and must not pretend that we can hide behind walls and pretend there is no consequence. It is only by remembering that we can try and learn from the past with the aim of making a better future for us all.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the event which will begin at 12.30pm and finish by 1pm. Also attending will be the Deputy Lieutenant and the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, the Reverend from the Minster Church of All Saints and an Imam from the Rotherham Council of Mosques along with a representative of the Rotherham Military Community Veterans Centre and council dignitaries.