- 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
- 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
- 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
- "The desperation of a hungry man knows no bounds,"
- 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