A Zimbabwean refugee and mature student has told how he escaped becoming a victim of Robert Mugabe's regime by hours - to rebuild his life in West Yorkshire.

Sakile Mtombeni, a 38-year-old father of two, will graduate from a social work degree at the University of Bradford this summer.

Mr Mtombeni was presented with an award from university bosses last week in recognition of his outstanding performance on the course. His is expected to get top honours when results are released this summer.

Mr Mtombeni was forced to flee Zimbabwe in 2000. While working as a secondary school teacher in the capital, Harare, teachers were ordered by senior officials from ruling party Zanu-PF to terminate classes and accompany all students to a political rally.

Mr Mtombeni said: "The whole school had been instructed to go and attend the rally. I approached the other staff and said it was not appropriate to take students to a political rally without parental consent because they were meant to be in school.

"I knew that the information that I didn't want the students to attend would get back to Zanu-PF and knew when I made that decision that I would be in danger."

Concerned for his safety, Mr Mtombeni spent the following night at his sister's house - a decision which soon proved correct.

"My colleagues said there were people who came looking for me that night at my house. My house was surrounded by so-called War Veterans who were part of Zanu-PF. I arranged for some time off from school and stayed at my sister's house. Zanu-PF did not know where I was."

Mr Mtombeni hoped the situation might change and he may be able to return to his job. However, after two months in hiding, it became apparent this would not be the case and, alongside his wife Hilda, a nurse, and daughters Amanda and Audrey, now 17 and 12, he moved to West Yorkshire.

After finding work with an engineering company he returned to education in 2005 by signing up to study for a social work degree at Bradford University. During a work placement with Bradford Council's children services department earlier this year, he impressed bosses and was offered a full-time position.

"There are always challenges in returning to education as an adult but I would encourage anyone who wants to, to do it," he said.

"The welcome that I received when I came to England was so wonderful that it's now my time to do what is right for the people of England and Bradford."

Mr Mtombeni's personal tutor, Ella Mistry-Jackson, a social work lecturer at the University of Bradford, said he had proved "an inspiration" to her.

She said: "He has faced a lot of personal difficulties but has been a real joy to teach. He is a good, solid role model to other students."

Mr Mtombeni also received an Adult Learners' Award from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

e-mail: dan.webber@telegraphandargus.co.uk

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