Anxious Zimbabwean migrants, smugglers watch South Africa’s election | Elections News

Many undocumented Zimbabweans worry about unfavourable changes to South Africa’s immigration policy after May 29 polls.

Source: Anxious Zimbabwean migrants, smugglers watch South Africa’s election | Elections News | Al Jazeera

While South African politicians debate immigration, Zimbabwe’s government has tried to discourage emigration, by, for instance, placing prohibitive prices for the issuance of passports.

The cost of getting a passport in Zimbabwe is about $200 – with fees paid only in USD and no provision for local currency. Meanwhile the average Zimbabwean earns between $200–$250 per month, making the travel documents largely unaffordable.

Against this backdrop, irregular migration to South Africa continues.

Zimbabweans crossing the border into South Africa
Zimbabweans wait to cross into South Africa on the dry bed of the Limpopo River along the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa [File: Jerome Delay/AP]

Although Beitbridge is the only formal land border between the two countries, the border region is more than 200km (124 miles) long.

When crossing illegally, some Zimbabweans pass through the official border with the help of smugglers and bribes, while others choose the more precarious route by “border jumping” via the Limpopo River; many migrants have lost their lives this way.

In Nkwana village where Ncube works, there are five Malaicha serving the route, with more servicing other routes across the Matabeleland region.

Ncube said on average each smuggles one to two people across per month, while other migrants find their way themselves.

If, after the election, South Africa’s immigration policy gets more restrictive, he will smuggle people only via the Limpopo River, he said, despite it being unsustainable and more dangerous than his current business.

“Despite xenophobic attacks and the risks of deportation, young people are eager to relocate to South Africa,” he told Al Jazeera. “These are uneducated people in informal spaces who are not eligible for the ZEP and permanent residence permits.

“Many times, you see our young people roaming at no man’s land near the Beitbridge border post. They want to go,” said Ncube.