Zimbabweans look to South Africa

The World

Stopping just past the bay bridge steps past the Limpopo River, a driver rolls down the window, turns up the volume on the car radio and begins the long wait for gas. It is the rhythms of life here these days, the result of a flow of Zimbabweans that has become a flood. In town line ups outside the banks snake down the sidewalks. Hundreds stand in the baking sun waiting their turn to pick up valuable foreign currency, their own money is just about worthless. Back at the bridge, two men stuff bags of food, snacks, cooking oil, small appliances, you name it, into every available space on their pick up truck. When that’s done they move onto the trailer and fill that too. The pick up heads off, its axels creaking under the weight of the cargo. It will all be sold within minutes of arriving at the next Zimbabwean town. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe breeds opportunity for those with means, but there are others who don’t have the paper work or the money to make the crossing back and forth. And in their hundreds, they embark on a much riskier journey. Day and night the desperate make a dash towards what they hope will be a better life. A people’s smuggler has brought a group of about half a dozen Zimbabweans here to a township on the outskirts of a town right beside the highway that leads back to the border. One man, his baseball cap pulled low over his head, tells me this was his third try, the last two times he was caught and brought back. The smuggler stands to one side, his dreadlocks falling into his face and he cocks his head to listen. He calls himself Simon, and Simon has no problem profiting from other people’s desperation, playing up the danger they face in crocodiles, he calls them crocks, �It’s a way of me making money, they’re desperate and they want to come across but I know the way. If they’ve got no passports to cross the border, I know where there’s crocks and where there are no crocks so I take them through. It’s easy for me.� Simon says he’s one of about 15 smugglers and they all know the rules. They know sometimes soldiers can be bribed as can the gangsters. Everybody can get a piece of the action, it’s all about business here. Nighttime in the town, women in short skirts and plunging tops walk the streets off the main road waiting for clients. LL �how many women work the street at night?� One woman, �Too much ladies.� Her name is Precious, she stayed to talk when the other prostitutes scattered when we approached. She is from Zimbabwe. She wears a wig, a candy pick t-shirt emblazoned with the words �Sweet Love� and the hardened look of a survivor. Precious tells me her time is precious too and so we arrange to meet the next day. Home for Precious is a shack just beyond a rusty gate. She shares one room, one bed with two other prostitutes. She came here hoping to work as a store clerk or a house cleaner so she could send money back home to support her son. But the pay was dismal. Then a friend introduced her to the streets and her first client, �I do that business. So that’s where I continue for this business.� Precious now sees girls, some as young as 14 selling themselves on the streets or the bars. It can be violent and brutal. A friend was gang raped and dumped in the bush. But for them, for her there is no other solution, �It’s a big, big problem in Zimbabwe. That’s why I took this business, and I know this business is risky. I risk my life, even in my sleep, I hope, I eat, I know I risk my life.� LL �you must have a dream of a better life.� Precious, �no answer.� She casts her eyes down, her face suddenly potted with sadness, there is no answer, no dream to be had. Along the highway leading into town from the border, men armed with pliers twist and turn strands of wire. They’re repairing the fence on this farm, repairing the damage caused by those fleeing from Zimbabwe. The farm owner, a towering Afrikaner, spends thousands of dollars every month fixing the holes his workers find every day, �Here you see, here, here, look at this one.� LL �show me what they do, where they’re cutting.� The farm owner, �They just take out their pliers and they cut it like this. And there. And it’s easy, they pull it apart and then run through the fence.� He was born here and he’s farmed this land for years. His property reaches right to the banks of the Limpopo. That means hundreds cross through his fields every day, but he and his workers have found the bodies of those who didn’t make it. the reasons are chilling. He says, �One of them might be hunger, the other has been raped, others have been shot. Yes, we’ve found a lot, and it’s not only my own farm. It is west and east from here.� Some farmers are taking matters into their own hands. They’re patrolling the borders, capturing migrants and turning them over to the police. They aren’t vigilantes says this farmer, they’re just fed up with foreigners invading their land, �people are causing us harm, involved in a lot of crimes in the country, they’re illegal immigrants.� As a storm sweeps across the savannah, thunder rumbles in the distance. Rainy season has not slowed the exodus from Zimbabwe, even as it increases the number of those who have drowned trying to make the crossing. They’ll continue to come making the dangerous run through the bush, lured only by the faintest hope of a better life than the one they left behind in their ruined country.

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