Aid for Africa wrangle rages on

Elaine Maslin More than two tonnes of equipment and aid donated by Norfolk children for a school in Zimbabwe is back sitting in a container yard in Felixstowe nearly five months after it was hoped it would benefit African children.

Elaine Maslin

More than two tonnes of school equipment donated by Norfolk children to help their counterparts in Zimbabwe has completed a 12,000-mile round trip and is sitting at docks in Felixstowe, it has emerged.

In a twist which has left fundraisers despondent, the container packed with computers, books, sports equipment and musical instruments is back on UK soil after six months and travelling from Felixstowe to Durban and back again.

It was due to give African children in Zimbabwe, many of them orphans, a better chance at life, it was hoped by Christmas last year.

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But now it sits unused and it could be months until it finally arrives at the Rugare school in Zimbabwe.

Anna Mudeka, a Norfolk-based Zimbabwean singer and performer, started the project to collect supplies for African pupils at the school where she went between the age of five and 12.

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She said she was disappointed it had still not arrived, for the children there and the children in Norfolk who had helped raise money to buy the equipment.

Children from Barnham Broom School, Sprowston Middle School in Norwich, Spooner Row School and Neatherd High School in Dereham all helped.

And friends of Ms Mudeka completed the Three Peaks challenge within 24 hours to boost the fund.

Douglas Siwira, of Ipswich-based Mughall Industries, charged with shipping the container, blamed red tape and hidden costs for the delay, but added he hoped the shipment would be leaving Felixstowe next week, for the second time.

He said the shipment had got to Durban, South Africa, with Maersk, Zimbabwean authorities were wanting too much cash to import the shipment by road.

“They wanted $4,000 for road carriage to Harare, which they had not told me about before,” he said.

“And they wanted me to return the empty containers at a cost of $1,500.

“I cannot operate like that. We have no choice than to take it by rail and the problem with that is it will take one month from Durban to Harare.”

He said it was cheaper to ship it back to Felixstowe and send it back out to Durban, hopefully next week, with MSC Shipping before going by rail to Harare. But the rail journey could then take a month.

He said it was a major problem buying anything from the UK and getting it into Zimbabwe due to taxes and the government being against importing goods, especially from Britain.

“It is quite a bad situation at the moment,” he said. “If things normalise and they have a new government, things might change.”

Ms Mudeka said she was disappointed it was taking so long. “Until it has arrived in Zimbabwe, I'm just going to keep calm,” she said. “We will just have to see what happens.”

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