Zim border jumper describes ‘desperate’ attempts to live elsewhere

Zimbabwean border jumper

A Zimbabwean border jumper crossing into South Africa. Picture courtesy Doctors Without Borders

By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
14 January 2014

A Zimbabwean man, who has illegally crossed the country’s borders on two separate occasions, has described how desperation forced him to risk the journeys, despite being beaten and deported.

Jack (not his real name) described his experiences during an interview with SW Radio Africa on Tuesday. After losing his job at a factory in Bulawayo, which closed down last year amid the worsening economic crisis, Jack chose to seek better fortunes in South Africa.

South Africa has for years been the chosen destination for Zimbabweans like Jack who want to earn a living, but do not have proper travel documents or work permits. The authorities across the border however have steadily been clamping down on the number of asylum seekers it authorises, and Zimbabweans are choosing instead to cross the border and work illegally, out of desperation.

Jack said his decision was also based on despair, with no jobs available at home and very few prospects. But after safely crossing into South Africa, he was forced to return because he couldn’t find work there either. He then turned his sights on Botswana, after being told that there are, “lots of jobs.”

Jack explained how he sought out the assistance of members of the notorious ‘guma-guma’ gangs, which have become synonymous with the terror experienced by border jumpers. Believed to be responsible for the majority of violent attacks, robberies and rapes against border jumpers, the gangs also make a living guiding people across the borders. Jack said the usual, non-refundable fee can be up to $40 a person, with no guarantee that you will reach a point of safety across the border.

“It’s very scary but you can’t just stay at home, so I phoned other people and we went. You go through the forest and you hold hands. When we crossed we had bad luck, because we were caught by Botswana police and they beat us badly and deported us back to Zimbabwe,” Jack said.

Still recovering from his beating, Jack described how he remains traumatised by the experience.

“The road to go there is not easy. Even along the way, I had my sister with me, but she was taken by the maguma-guma. We had paid them, but one of the maguma-guma said he loved my sister and I haven’t seen her since then. My friend told me my sister was probably raped and I don’t know what happened to her,” Jack said.

He added: “I don’t know if I can go there again, because the soldiers beat me so much and I’m afraid. But I’m also hungry and maybe I’ll be forced to go there after I heal a bit.”

Listen here to Jack’s story.

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