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Zim shoppers flood SA

Zimbabwe crisis

DESPERATE: RISK ARREST FOR ILLEGALLY CROSSING THE BORDER Economic downturn and hyperinflation destroys livelihoods reception .

BUST. A South Africa n National defense member directs suspected undocumented Zimbabwean nationals into a vehicle after they attempted to illegally cross the border fence to smuggle goods and fuel into Zimbabwe from South Africa near the Beitbridge border post yesterday.

Zimbabwean street vendor Memory Chauke didn’t get very far when she hopped over a fence into neighbouring South Africa on the primary day its borders reopened after a six-month closure thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

South African patrol guards had anticipated that Zimbabweans would resume illegal crossings into the country to shop for goods as soon as travel restrictions were lifted.

Hundreds were arrested as they tried to smuggle groceries back to impoverished Zimbabwe, where an economic downturn and rampant hyperinflation have destroyed livelihoods.

Chauke was caught on the way back to her village, on a gravel road around 500 metres from the official Beitbridge border post.

She looked sombre and exhausted as she sat under an outsized thorn tree, surrounded by grocery bags.

Chauke said it had been the primary time she had been arrested during crossing.

“I always run,” she said. “Today, I didn’t manage.

The 45-year-old mother of 5 had just walked quite 20 kilometres to South Africa’s northernmost town of Musina and purchased goods she planned to resell in Zimbabwe for a profit.

“Where we stay there’s no food, there’s not enough food so we are hungry,” she said. “We come to nearby shops and buy cheaper food, then return to Zimbabwe.”

Others sat on the bottom alongside her, clutching recently purchased pots, maize meal, fuel and even sofas and a bed as they awaited their fate.

Many Zimbabweans believe goods bought from richer South Africa for basic supplies and informal cross-border trade may be a lucrative business.

Some traders go as far as risking the treacherous crocodile-infested Limpopo river which divides the 2 countries to succeed in more affordably priced SA stores.

“It’s dangerous but there’s nothing I can do,” said Chauke, who had not dared to venture across the border since SA locked down on 27 March.

She hoped to beg for forgiveness and “go back to my kids”.

South Africa, the continent’s hardest-hit country by Covid-19, reopened some land borders also as its three main airports on Thursday.

Zimbabwean authorities had also planned to resume international travel on an equivalent day.

But the Beitbridge border post, one among the Africa’s busiest crossings, has remained shut on the Zimbabwean side.

Private vehicles were stopped at the gate and told to show back.

Only commercial trucks, which were already exempt from travel restrictions, were allowed through.

“We haven’t opened the Beitbridge border so far ,” Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe said on Thursday, without giving a reason for the delay.

SA border patrols said they still intercepted many Zimbabweans jumping the fence.

“There was a small increase in numbers except for most of them, it had been with reference to the groceries,” said military official David Mathetsha.

“A hungry stomach is capable of doing anything,” he explained, adding that officers had confiscated a spread of products and bulk purchases.

Mathetsha said that thousands of Zimbabweans crossed into South Africa every day before the pandemic.

“At some stage, you’d arrest one person quite 20 times,” he recalled.

The fence separating South Africa and Zimbabwe has been notoriously porous since its de-electrification in 1994.

A multimillion-rand renewal project was placed on hold earlier this year after SA’s parliament deemed a replacement stretch of fencing inadequate and overpriced. –

There is not enough food so we are hungry