‘Human tsunami’ hits South Africa as thousands of Zimbabweans flee

By Violet Gonda
12 July 2007

“It was a night without much moonlight and they walked through. It was like the sound of cattle moving through the grass. You couldn’t see the other people but to your left and to your right across the distance in the silence of the night you could hear people moving through the bush and it was like the sound of a herd of cattle moving through the grass.” This was a Zimbabwean refugee describing the movement of desperate people to neighboring South Africa this week.

Experts say between two and three thousand people are crossing the border every night, as a result of the price cuts crisis that began a couple of weeks ago. Although the influx of Zimbabweans has been growing steadily over the last few years, South Africa has seen a marked jump in recent weeks.

In the past many of the people who fled the country were political refugees but observers say now it’s almost entirely economic refugees. Hunger, combined with years of difficulties, has finally pushed people over the edge.

Journalist Geoff Hill said: “Whereas people used to cross just by the Beit Bridge area, people are now going across the entire length of the South Africa border with Zimbabwe – which is almost 200km – and they are using the whole river to come into South Africa.”

Hill added: “To show concern for that there was a huge South Africa police conference in Messina today.”

South Africa Home Affairs officers and border police working the Limpopo River district also told reporters on Thursday that the flow of economic and political refugees crossing South Africa's northern border has become "a tsunami."

Questions are now being raised as to whether or not South Africa has the capacity to deal with the ever-increasing flood of refugees crossing the Limpopo River. Crime is said to have also risen at Beit Bridge, a situation that is now affecting the security and integrity of the border post. Geoff Hill said: “But there is no sign of the government (SA) or SADC breaking ranks or speaking out on Zimbabwe, despite this crisis every night of 2 000 to 3 000 people continues, across the Limpopo River.”

Meanwhile, most of the major supermarkets in Zimbabwe are empty, causing serious food shortages. While long queues of people searching for food and fuel have resurfaced, others prefer to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River in search of food – and hope.

 

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