By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
11 April 2014
The bodies of at least 17 suspected border jumpers, believed to have drowned in the Limpopo River, were discovered by Zimbabwe and South Africa police this week.
15 bodies were found on Wednesday by officials patrolling the river near Beitbridge. It is reported that the bodies, some of which had missing limbs, had been hidden in a cave by crocodiles.
The victims have been taken to a mortuary in the Musina border town. It has been reported that 14 of the victims have been positively identified as Zimbabwean citizens.
The latest discovery brings to 17 the confirmed number of deaths of suspected border jumpers this week alone. Two other bodies were found at different points along the river after attempting the crossing over the weekend. One of the victims reportedly lost both legs to crocodiles in the river.
The Limpopo region has been the site of serious flooding in recent weeks and last month the dangerous levels of the flooded river resulted in the temporary closure of South Africa’s border with Botswana.
Local officials near Beitbridge however were quoted by the Herald newspaper as saying the section where the bodies were found was not flooded.
The high number of drowned victims in one week has raised serious concerns of a new influx of Zimbabweans crossing illegally into South Africa.
The border crossing has for years been a site of tragedy for Zimbabweans, hundreds of thousands of whom have chosen to risk illegal entry into South Africa, rather than remaining at home. The crocodile infested river is just one of numerous dangers the border jumpers face. Untold numbers of men, women and children have fallen victim to criminal gangs who patrol the crossing points.
A Musina refugee shelter has previously said that at least three out of every 10 Zimbabwean women crossing into South Africa were gang raped in the process. Another relief group, Doctors Without Borders, meanwhile stated in 2012 that an average of 16 border jumpers were being raped and robbed every month.
Daniel Muzenda, the spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Migrants Association, said the documents required for a legal crossing into South Africa are far out of reach of the majority of Zimbabweans.
“The reasons why people are trying to cross illegally is because the documents to cross into South Africa legally are very expensive. A passport for a month is $53 and an emergency passport is over $300. So it’s very expensive,” Muzenda told SW Radio Africa.
He added: “But people can’t stay. There are serious economic hardships (in Zimbabwe), there are no jobs, so they want to go to South Africa because they assume there is economic stability and a high job market.”
He explained that there are better job opportunities for Zimbabweans in South Africa, which is a far cry from the reality they face back home. He said most Zimbabweans are “caught between a rock and a hard place,” because they need paying jobs to afford the documents to cross into South Africa, but there are no jobs back home.
In South Africa meanwhile, authorities have announced that work and study permit granted to Zimbabweans under the special dispensation period in 2010, will expire in November this year. The dispensation period was implemented specifically to give Zimbabwe nationals a chance to regularise their stay in South Africa, because so many were working in the country illegally. Although the numbers of Zimbabweans in South Africa is pegged at about two million people, only about 250,000 people were approved for four year work and study permits.
Muzenda explained that the new permit laws are a cause for real concern, because the authorities in South Africa have stated that new permits can only be applied for back in Zimbabwe. He said many people are concerned about returning to Zimbabwe, without a guarantee that they will get documents allowing them back into South Africa.