Zimbabweans risk all for a new life

Dire economic conditions force many to take the perilous journey to South Africa.


Dire political and economic conditions in Zimbabwe are forcing many Zimbabweans to flee across the border into South Africa in search of a better life.

As a result, people smuggling has become a profession, and life for hopeful Zimbabweans in South Africa has resulted in either deportation or destitution.
Zeina Awad explores the world of human trafficking between the two countries.
Most Zimbabweans cannot travel to South Africa via the official border crossing known as P2C.

Instead they have to swim through the crocodile infested Limpopo river, cut through razor wire, and walk across the bush for hours.

Samantha, one Zimbabwean making the journey into South Africa, told Al Jazeera that she was “going to Pretoria [and] I will try until I succeed.”

Lucy is another seeking greener pastures. It took a painstaking 48 hours for her and her husband just to make it over the border.

“We have suffered too much. We have left our children. One is my daughter. She is one year old we left her in Zimbabwe,” she said.

The government cannot afford to issue its people with legitimate papers, which means that most Zimbabweans cannot travel out of Zimbabwe legally and human smuggling is rife.
Human passport

Moyo, one human trafficker, charges his fellow Zimbabweans $15 per crossing – one and a half times the average monthly Zimbabwean wage. Smugglers like Moyo have become their passports to hope of a better life.
“I’m considering myself as somebody who assists people, those who are stranded, those who don’t have passports, because there are so many Zimbabweans who want to go to South Africa,” he says.

There are two immediate concerns for Zimbabweans escaping their country – border guards on patrol and Goma Goma bandits looking for easy targets.

While many parts of the crossing are supposed to be under strict army supervision, soldiers have rarely been seen on patrol.

More worryingly, the Goma Gomas are also hidden from view, making a living by robbing those unfortunate enough to run into them.

Aside from the Limpopo and the desert bush, fences present a physical barrier to illegal immigrants into South Africa, but the fragile wire is cut easily with simple pliers.
Hope and despair

Fences present a physical barrier but the fragile
wire is easily cut with simple pliers

Zimbabweans who make it to South Africa live with the constant risk of deportation.
In the border area alone, 500 Zimbabweans are picked up and sent back to Zimbabwe each day.

Maggy Mathebula, the police commissioner and head of the border detention centre, said: “You arrest the person today we deport them the following day.”

“The issue of deporting it is not the duty of South African police per say. We are actually helping the home affairs department because the capacity is too big they cant handle it.”

The home affairs department’s record on deportation recently caused a stir when human rights organisations accused it of deporting Zimbabweans who were at risk of torture in their home country.   
“There are organisational and administrative inefficiencies that not only applies to Zimbabweans but to the way the home affairs functions in its entirety,” Jody Kollapen, from the South African human rights commission, says.

“But we think a lot of Zimbabweans with interactions with us have communicated dissatisfaction with regard to what they say is their right to be treated as asylum seekers and the inability to get the government to see it that way.”
“Recognising more Zimbabweans as asylum seekers would be admission by the South African government that indeed there is a human rights crisis unfolding in Zimbabwe.”

Deportation threat

Migrants who make it to South Africa, often end up in one of Johannesburg’s most rundown neighbourhoods, which has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

In the border area alone, 500 Zimbabweans are
picked up and sent back to Zimbabwe each day.

Lovemore is an illegal immgrant who has been in Johannesburg for 18 months.

“I was sleeping here,” he says. “There was no food, no water to wash your body.”

Though Lovemore has moved off the streets and into a shelter at a nearby church, he still doesn’t have a job.
Like the majority of Zimbabweans in South Africa, he lives under the constant threat of being picked up and deported at any moment.

“There is a level of paranoia about the number of Zimbabweans entering the country,” Kollapen, says. “And I think South Africans have failed to appreciate the crisis.”

“It’s a failure, not only of our government, but also of African leadership … By African standards, Zimbabwe has not been compliant.”

Source : Al Jazeera


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