By Thandiwe Garusa
BETWEEN the year 2000 and 2008, up to 3 million Zimbabweans are said to have fled economic and political mayhem at home into regional power South Africa seeking better opportunities and safety.
They used every route available including scaling the perimeter fence between the two countries but there seemed to have been a lull in the deluge after then President Robert Mugabe was forced into a shaky coalition with his rival, then MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009.
For a few years, Tsvangirai’s presence in government seemed to have stabilised Zimbabwe. Some actually moved back into the country as things looked up. But Mugabe was to “steal” the 2013 elections, again but the implosion did not immediately set in. There was some semblance of stability.
This lasted until Mugabe destabilised his Zanu PF party, sacking then Vice President Joice Mujuru in 2014 before things began to look south again.
As fate would have it, Mugabe was to be removed from power unceremoniously by the man who he had picked to replace Mujuru, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Ironically, Mnangagwa had been fired two weeks prior to November 15, 2017 when the army rolled tanks into Harare, placed Mugabe under house arrest and invited the new Zanu PF leader to return apparently from brief exile in South Africa to take power.
Since then, it has been downhill and the tell-tale signs of another meltdown are looming large. Zimbabweans are not waiting for another 2008 as they call it. Those that can make it to the border are taking every chance and again using unorthodox means to escape Mnangagwa’s New Dispensation that came with so much promise.
It has all gone pear-shaped again. Now desperate citizens are putting everything including the only life they have on the line for a chance in South Africa. They are crossing crocodile infested Limpopo river hoping for a better life in the neighbouring South Africa as economic refugees.
Among those using dangerous routes to skip the border into neighbouring South Africa given the scarcity of travel documents in Zimbabwe include the disabled, the frail, the old and youths with some carrying infants on their backs.
The Registrar General’s office in Zimbabwe is currently incapacitated and printing a measly 60 passports a day. With a backlog of over 300 000 still waiting for their passports.
The lucky ones who use the port of entry have to part with at least R2000 to get assistance by long distance bus drivers and conductors to cross the border.
Normally, bus fares from Zimbabwe to South Africa range from R300 to R500.
Speaking to NewZimbabwe.com, a lady who refused to be identified said there are known elaborate and intricate syndicates smuggling people into South Africa.
“Just after passing the last tollgate in Beitbridge, there is a certain place where these buses drop those with no passports. These buses have agents who they work with.
“Those agents are paid a certain amount by the bus driver, those passengers will then be taken to Beitbridge town where they will wait until it is pitch dark and the journey begins in earnest,” she said.
She further says there is a crew which knows all the shortcuts that pass through the forest where there is high risk of snake attacks and other wild animals.
In the past, there have been cases of crocodile attacks on border jumpers.
“On those footpaths or dust roads in some cases there are also thugs who will be waiting to rob and steal from those people. They are prepared to kill if one refuses to hand over any valuables they might have or money,” another one said as she waited for the agents.
From Beitbridge town, the border jumpers walk for about ten kilometres, through snaking paths in the dense forests, hearts pounding.
“We are not allowed to put on torches or lights to avoid being noticed by the army, police or thugs,” she said.
Chances of being raped are also very high.
South African soldiers, police officers and some immigration officers who might catch up with them are easily bribed.
“Some military officers request bribes from those people and let them pass,” she said.
“When crossing the wide boundary road which is very busy with South African police patrolling, these border jumpers are asked to either crawl or run to avoid being arrested.”
A man weighed in: “After crossing this road they then crawl under the South African boundary fence and walk for some kilometres in the forest till they reach the main road N1 (connecting the Beitbridge border post and Johannesburg) where they will get taxis from the local South African guys who will transport them to the nearest town Louis Trichardt where the buses will be waiting for them.”
Its a dicey journey that most are willing to take to escape grinding poverty and political instability in Zimbabwe. South Africa is heaven for many.