THE bodies of 17 so-called “border jumpers” were recovered this week from the Limpopo River, which separates Zimbabwe from South Africa.
Most of them had been partially eaten by crocodiles.
Desperate Zimbabweans, trying to escape a worsening economic crisis, regularly risk life and limb to swim the Limpopo in hope of finding unskilled work in South Africa’s homes, farms and mines.
Zimbabwean and South African police found 15 bodies yesterday in a crocodile-infested cave three kilometres east of the Old Limpopo Bridge, which marks the official Beitbridge border crossing, best known for its chaotic queues. Two other bodies were found earlier this week, one missing its legs.
Police spokesman chief superintendent Patrick Majuta said: “The body was spotted by some villagers trapped in sand and they alerted the police. We have intensified patrols in the light of an upsurge in irregular migration and smuggling.”
The bodies were taken to the Musina mortuary in South Africa. Fourteen were identified as Zimbabweans. The other three are likely to be Zimbabweans travelling without papers. Villagers reported another man missing in the Limpopo last Friday: it was not immediately clear if his body was among those recovered this week.
Desperate Zimbabweans pay up to £90 to middlemen who promise to help them make the treacherous crossing into South Africa.
Peter Moyo, acting chairman of the Beitbridge district civil protection unit, which often helps recover bodies, told the official Herald newspaper: “People should stop this illegal migration. How can someone pay $150 (£90) to be transported to South Africa through an illegal entry point when they can get a passport for $53 (£32)? We need to work hard in educating our children to shift from this mindset.”
But most migrants do not want to be traced by the authorities in South Africa, which has tried for years to stem the flood of Zimbabwean illegals. At the height of the pre-2009 economic and political crisis there were an estimated two to three million Zimbabweans in South Africa, most of them illegally. In 2010 Pretoria offered an amnesty on condition they registered. Only 275,000 took up the offer. Last month South Africa’s home affairs department indicated all of them would have to go back to Zimbabwe when their permits expire this November.
Eight months after president Robert Mugabe’s election victory over Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe is spiralling back into crisis. At least 75 companies shut down in the first two months of 2014, rendering another 8,000 jobless, trade unions said.
The official unemployment rate stood at 85 per cent before the latest lay-offs. Analysts say Mr Mugabe’s indigenisation programme, which compels white and foreign-owned firms to hand over 51 per cent of their shares to blacks, is stopping much-needed investment.
A paper by the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit casts fresh doubt upon Mr Mugabe’s July poll victory, suggesting that “numerous fraudulent votes” were cast. Mr Tsvangirai still refuses to accept the result while the European Union maintains sanctions against Mr Mugabe and his wife Grace.