I always found rivers fascinating, mostly because they separate one bank from another and nourish the hope of getting to a brighter side – once crossed. Limpopo is yet another river but its story is as simple, complex, beautiful and ugly as life itself.
The river is found in central southern Africa. It extends about 640 kilometers and serves as a borderline between Zimbabwe to the North, South Africa to the southeast and Botswana to the northeast. The name Limpopo stands for “gushing strong waterfalls”, and the great river lives up to the reputation.
Zimbabweans cross Limpopo to seek refuge in South Africa. The journey to cross the river has three stages. The first one starts with escaping xenophobia – a sugar coated term for racism. The term stands for “deep-rooted fear towards foreigners”. However, the actions taken in its name –looting, rape, massacres etc. are pretty much conscious premeditated actions, far from the notion of irrationality associated with phobia. One borderline between two black countries in a black continent makes the person on the other end a stranger, a foreigner, an alien- one that must be eliminated at any cost.
The second stage is crossing the borderline. Now that’s where all the action lies. If you’re crossing Limpopo, you are surely escaping xenophobia and the government. You see, crossing the borderline river is deemed illegal, so you might want to reconsider your fate. How would you like to go, xenophobic attack or imprisonment?
If you took the crazy-brave decision to cross the borderline anyway, Limpopo will receive you with open arms. Flooding without prior notice, the crocodile-infested river is also polluted. Cholera, Typhoid and waterborne diseases, you name it!
If you manage to survive this stage, you will be delighted to meet those who take advantage of the situation no matter what it is, because they have no time to pause and think or sympathize. The ‘guma-guma’ are criminals who prey on the newly arrived. They search the whole border fence looking to rob “illegal migrants” of their miserable belongings and rape as they do. Once the guma-guma is done, there are human traffickers, who seem to have full record of what is going on the banks of Limpopo.
Traffickers report that 400 people attempt to cross Limpopo every day. Now take a moment and imagine the rate. For traffickers, Limpopo is an everyday season that keeps them busy all year long. ‘For myself, I barely have time to bring one group over and another 30 people are waiting for me on the Zimbabwean side.’ reports one trafficker. Of course helping “jumpers” comes at the charge of 40 rands (£2.50) for the head!
Once you’re done with the traffickers, you’ll have xenophobia and deportation waiting for you on the other end; after all, you are an illegal migrant”! South Africans like things to remain legal, so they have fenced the borderline with razor-wire extending along 200 kilometers. The Limpopo Department of Health warns people from crossing the river. With the expenses of rescuing the drowning or salvaging corpses by the Emergency Medical Services, assigning police and military forces to monitor and send people back, South African officials resort to instilling fear and sharp-tone warnings to discourage crossing the great river. Still, President self-elect Mugabe remained in office after he took his own vote and so people preferred braving Limpopo!
Now why would anyone take the risk of crossing the river instead of just crossing the ordinary political border? Well, unless the migrant has enough money to afford legality stamped to his papers, he is illegal, as simple as that…it’s his fault one way or the other …oh how exotic!
Sipho Mujuru, 40, One of the jumpers, reports “We have heard all the stories. But if I have to die, I might as well die trying”, he is illegal and while hiding he considers himself lucky to have only lost a shoe! Well if you ever thought of being unlucky, now is the time to think twice.
Unfortunately, media shedding light on the ill-fated, funds raised in the name of the wretched and the so many NGOs, conferences and candle lightings did not get more compassion than Dear God are thou even watching. They had to do it on their own for no one will fight their battle. One instance, it was a woman, another, it was a man, and in many cases they were children all of whom took the risk and very few of whom managed to get to the other bank.
Limpopo is one story of a borderline. By the same token, Trump fights immigration, France attacks Calais refugees, Lebanon attacks Ain Al Hilweh refugees and a Hungarian journalist kicks immigrants and trips them off, to mention but a very few.
Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Indophobia, Christophobia, Hispanophobia, and the list goes on. Polished terms coined to give an issue some kind of justification. Then when the body of an immigrant child was found washed off one shore, the same justification said he’d would have grown to be a rapist anyway and so it’s ok.
Nothing would stop a desperate human from braving death; for the grass is always greener on the other side. Perhaps it’s not greener with the same species inhibiting planet Earth. Then again, the civility of a country can very well be measured by the way it treats those who seek refuge within its borders.