We were so scared - Subhash Tejuraman recalls how Idi Amin's soldiers became killers
In 1972, 10,000 Asians arrived to start new lives in Leicester after being expelled from Uganda by dictator Idi Amin. To mark the 40th anniversary, Alan Thompson speaks to a man who recalls how Amin’s soldiers became killers in their bid to get people to leave
Life was good for Subhash Tejura, living in a small town on the edge of Lake Victoria in equatorial Africa. As a 22-year-old, just married and a keystone of the family's general store business, the road ahead was secure and successful.
Then one night, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin announced on TV that he had had a dream and all Asians must leave the country they had helped to build.
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"We thought it was a joke and nobody took any notice. He announced in August that we had 90 days to get out. No one took it seriously," said Mr Tejura.
But Amin was serious – deadly serious.
As the deadline approached, signs of just how serious he was started to mount.
One of the country's leading Asian business tycoons was imprisoned.
ITN reporter Sandy Gall, there to cover the story of the expulsion, was also thrown into jail.
Mr Tejura, 62, of Rushey Mead, Leicester, said: "When he was doing things like that, people started to take him more seriously.
"One day, the town mayor in Masaka, a town of about 5,000 people where we lived, was snatched from his car by soldiers."
The pro-Asian mayor was carted off to the military barracks, then to a taxi stand, where he was bayoneted to death in full view of the horrified onlookers.
The mayor's crime? He was protective of the town's business community, most of whom were Asians.
Mr Tejura said: "A couple of days later, the Ugandan Argus, an English newspaper, reported that the mayor had been found dead in his car.
"Several people I knew had witnessed his death and here was a newspaper running this story – the authorities were able to tell the story they wanted."
Stories of Asians being abducted at gunpoint from nearby villages, never to be seen again, spread like wildfire.
He said: "People were scared. Soldiers started going into people's houses, helping themselves to anything of value they wanted.
"People didn't resist. They didn't want to suffer the same fate as the mayor. It was a horrible atmosphere.
"We just packed our bags and left."
Mr Tejura's mother, a British passport holder, reluctantly fled the country with his younger siblings. His father had died a year earlier.
He said: "My mum was in tears when she left, but she had to think of my younger brothers and sisters. It really was very scary.
"I was born in Uganda. My wife had a British passport through her father. The British Embassy didn't want to know me."
On the 80-mile journey from Masaka to the capital Kampala, the hectic hub of humanitarian aid agencies working to find homes for the soon-to-be displaced families, they were stopped at eight Army checkpoints over the 80 or so miles.
"At each one, our cases were thrown on the ground while they helped themselves to whatever they liked – clothes, anything," Mr Tejura said.
"Once in Kampala I had to find out how to get out of the country.
"The soldiers were very threatening to people who were standing in queues, sometimes for up to a day.
"It was a very worrying time because Amin said anyone who stayed beyond the deadline would be put in concentration camps, like in Nazi Germany."
Mr Tejura was one of about 200 taken in by the Swiss government. He spent six months in the country before joining his family who were settling in Leicester.
From being part of a thriving family business, he became a guard on British Rail, working graveyard shifts in the middle of the British winter.
He said: "It was difficult to adjust, but with God's help we adapted.
"We were very grateful to the British government for giving us the chance to live here."