South Africa’s 2024 election: ‘You see bones’


Many migrants risk their way to South Africa, making the perilous journey across the border from Zimbabwe. Fleeing poverty and desperation elsewhere in Africa they feel helpless. But as the election approaches, anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise and the South African government is under pressure to tighten the border.

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[BBC]

The men who raped Portie Murevesi did not care that she was pregnant.

They also attacked him with glass bottles, he told us, pointing to a large, jagged wound on his forehead.

Portie Murevesi, Musina, ZimbabwePortie Murevesi, Musina, Zimbabwe

Portie Murevesi has nightmares about her condition [BBC/Ed Habershon]

Now, near term, she is recovering at a church-run shelter in the South African town of Musina.

“When I try to sleep sometimes, I see what these men have done to me,” he told the BBC.

Musina is well known as a haven for refugees who, like Ms Murevesi, slip through the cracks.

Migrants survive a difficult journey through the bush. It is a lawless and unforgiving field. Wildlife and organized crime are under constant threat.

Stories of robbery, assault, rape and murder are common.

"It is very dangerous""Source: George about crossing the border, Source Description: , Photo: George, a Zimbabwean man in Musina, South Africa"It is very dangerous""Source: George about crossing the border, Source Description: , Photo: George, a Zimbabwean man in Musina, South Africa

“It’s very dangerous””, Source: George about crossing the border, Source Description: , Photo: George, a Zimbabwean man in Musina, South Africa


“It’s very dangerous,” a Zimbabwean man, who only gave his name as George, told us.

“You see bones, you see someone has already killed two or three months ago,” he said of his crossing.

We met him at night in Musina and groups of men returned to a mud village of tin huts.

The lucky ones had found menial jobs in the town, and received money to send to their families in neighboring countries.

One explained: “We cannot go back to Zimbabwe because there is nothing. We are hungry. There is no food.”

No one knows for sure how many undocumented migrants live, at the behest of the authorities, in South Africa, the world’s largest economy.

The last census found that there were more than 2.4 million foreign visitors – almost half of them Zimbabweans – living in the country, which is more than 3% of the population.

But there is no official estimate of the number of illegal immigrants.

And with the election expected to end at the end of May, the political news has been on the rise.

South African officials say they are tightening border security.

We saw for ourselves the scope of the work.

Along the road from Musina to the Limpopo River, which separates South Africa from Zimbabwe, steel beams shine through the forest.

It is a remnant of a border fence: light, small, trampled.

A donkey cart that carried watermelons on the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe to South AfricaA donkey cart that carried watermelons on the Limpopo River from Zimbabwe to South Africa

John, who lives in Zimbabwe, brings watermelons from the Limpopo River to sell [BBC/Ed Habershon]

The river itself has collapsed. And there, because of the terrible heat, many people are running here and there across the invisible border.

Donkeys pull carts, carry goods, cross a broken river.

The women, balancing piles of packs on their heads, run together.

He told us that it takes about five minutes to walk from the nearest village in Zimbabwe to South Africa.

And there is nothing – no fence, no guards – to stop them.

John – who asked that his name be changed to protect himself – sat on his wagon, occasionally swinging a whip at his restless ass. Watermelons piled up on the cart.

He has family in Zimbabwe, he told us. But there is no work there, there is not enough food. So now they grow the watermelons and bring them to sell in South Africa, where they fetch a very high price.

He said: “I do this to survive.”

It is a thriving, illegal, cross-border market. When the refugees cross here and face the grueling journey to Musina, most of the goods are moved back and forth by cart or truck.

Sometimes, Yohane told us, soldiers come and arrest them. But there’s often warning ahead of time, he added, and it’s easy — even dangerous — to melt in the bushes.

Officers of the South African Border Management Authority (BMA) gather with motorcycles ahead of the deployment of their troops at the Musina Show Grounds in Musina, South Africa - 5 October 2023Officers of the South African Border Management Authority (BMA) gather with motorcycles ahead of the deployment of their troops at the Musina Show Grounds in Musina, South Africa - 5 October 2023

The Border Management Authority (BMA) was established in October [AFP]

But the South African government wants to take back control. Last year President Cyril Ramaphosa officially launched a new army.

Mike Masiapato, Commissioner of the Border Management Authority (BMA), told us that they are sending 400 newly trained police officers to the border and buying drones, body cameras and motorbikes for surveillance.

“I can assure you now that the leadership of this country understands the opposition to this project.”

But even Masiapato admits that it will take time to secure the country’s borders.

“We have begun to strengthen the environment. We believe in [the] In the next few years we should do better. “

The country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), may not be old.

After three decades in power, the ANC presides over a country where power and water are failing and whose citizens are suffering from high unemployment and violent crime.

As South Africa approaches what polls predict will be a difficult election for the ANC, it is perhaps not surprising that political opponents – such as Anti-migrant party Operation Dudula – openly blames immigrants for the country’s problems.

And claims of xenophobia are on the rise, with immigrants also being criticized for taking jobs away from locals.

"It would be depressing to not even talk about the reality of what it does to our society when people don't pay taxes.""Source: ActionSA's Malebo Kobe, Source description: , Image: Malebo Kobe"It would be depressing to not even talk about the reality of what it does to our society when people don't pay taxes.""Source: ActionSA's Malebo Kobe, Source description: , Image: Malebo Kobe

“It would be frustrating not to even talk about what it does to our public system when people don’t pay taxes””, Source: Malebo Kobe of ActionSA, Source Description: , Image: Malebo Kobe


Even President Ramaphosa has said that undocumented foreigners are exacerbating South Africa’s economic problems

And other opposition parties want to tighten the border, including ActionSA, which was founded four years ago by Herman Mashaba, an outspoken politician and former mayor of Johannesburg.

“The ANC government has failed our people,” says Malebo Kobe, ActionSA’s regional spokesperson.

Mrs. Kobe, whom we met at the border of Zimbabwe, said illegal immigrants are the most vulnerable voters in the region.

He warned that local hospitals and other services have been overburdened by migrants who come to seek medical care or other services.

“It would be frustrating not to even talk about what it does to our government system when people don’t pay taxes, but expect to live and benefit from the goods and services our government provides.”

Even as South Africa prepares to – perhaps – redraw its political map, need and desperation continue to define the country’s borders.

More information about South Africa and elections:



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