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Zimbabweans Defy Death
To Flee To SA

By Ade Obisesan
It took two days of trekking through the bush, before navigating a crocodile-infested river and then scrambling underneath a barbed wire fence for Peter Nkomo and his family to make good their great escape from Zimbabwe to South Africa.
"When you have poverty and hunger staring you in the face you are left with only your survival instincts - that is flee Zimbabwe," said 32-year-old Nkomo from the relative safety of the South African border town of Musina.
"That's what I have been doing over the last two days, hoping to have a new beginning in South Africa."
With 80 percent of the population now living below the poverty line, thousands of Zimbabweans are trying to make it across the border every day and join their two-million-plus compatriots who have already made it south.
But while all hope that they will find a better life in Africa's richest country than in President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, they often find that life on the other side of the border is equally cruel and dangerous.
Nkomo, who comes from a village near Zimbabwe's main southern city of Bulawayo, said he had arrived with his wife and four-month-old baby boy with little more than the clothes on their backs.
They have no money, no food and their baby has developed an eye infection which was growing angrier by the hour in temperatures around 27°C.
Visibly exhausted, Nkomo said the worst part of their journey had been their overnight trek across the Limpopo River.
"They are lucky that the Limpopo has virtually dried up now, otherwise these Zimbabweans... would! have be en eaten up by crocodiles," said Abram Luruli, manager of the Musina municipality.
The normally tranquil Musina has been flooded with refugees in recent months, with Zimbabweans everywhere to be seen both in town and on the 10km road which leads to the Beit Bridge border crossing.
Japhet Mashuga, who spoke as he trekked along the Musina-Beit Bridge road, said he had been ready to do what it takes to leave behind a life of misery in Harare.
"It was a question of life and death. We could not be bothered about the risks we faced," he said as he recounted his journey southwards.
"The desperation of a hungry man knows no bounds," he added.
Mugabe's order for retailers to slash prices in June was officially meant to help Zimbabweans afford basics such as bread and cooking oil, but the net result has been more empty shelves because producers can no longer cover their costs.
The United Nations's World Food Programme a nnounced last week that it planned a 10-fold increase in the number of beneficiaries of its food aid in Zimbabwe in the next eight months in order to avert the threat of what it called widespread hunger.
But for many Zimbabweans, South Africa represents their best chance of avoiding starvation, even if only as a source of goods that can then be consumed or even hawked back home.
Mother-of-six Ophadube Davies said she often sneaks over the border to buy food, but on her latest trip she was picked up without papers by South African border guards, who are generally overwhelmed.
Davies, 58, said as she was being marched back to Zimbabwe that she was trying to put bread on the table for her jobless husband and 10 grandchildren left in her care after their parents died of HIV and Aids and other diseases.
A South African immigration official at the Beit Bridge border post said he had every sympathy for the Zimbabweans but that a free-for- all could not be allowed.
"We pity the situation ! of Zimba bweans but we cannot allow them to enter our country illegally," he said on condition of anonymity. 


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