Border crossings are “out of control”

The chairman of the TAU’s national safety committee, Mr Gideon Meiring, said in an interview that mounting tension, frustration and despair are being caused amongst residents in Northern Limpopo by thousands of Zimbabweans who cross the border in a desperate bid for survival. Border patrols are ineffective and almost non-existent. There is no provision on the South African side to meet, accommodate and alleviate the very real need and distress of desperate men, women (some of them pregnant) and children of school-going age, who travel on foot through the African bush, brave the dangers of wild animals and the attacks of organized criminal gangs, in the hope of reaching safety and prosperity and a better future in South Africa. Because they lack the official status of refugees and are treated as illegal immigrants, thousands are flooding clandestinely across commercial farmlands to avoid capture, detention and repatriation to the untenable situation in their country of origin. In the process, these desperate people pose an increasing security risk to the farming community but also to international tourists on these farms. “Desperate illegal immigrants have little concern for life or property. Brutal barbaric farm attacks, farm murders and uncontrolled theft happen with frightening frequency. Landowners and farm workers, together with visiting tourists, are at risk,” Meiring said. According to available statistics, an average of more than 2 000 refugees per week are flooding from Zimbabwe in an uncontrolled and illegal stream across the border. From towns like Louis Trichardt, an average of 50 of these people are rounded up every day and transported by truck back to Beit Bridge for repatriation. On a weekly basis, a special train with several thousand of these people are transported at high costs from expensive holding centres in Gauteng, back to the Zimbabwean border. The flood of illegal entries usually increases during the winter months when the Limpopo River is partially dried up, making it easier to cross. This increase coincides with the peak of the annual hunting season, which draws large numbers of international hunters from all over the world to the Limpopo Province. The chairperson of the TAU SA North, Mr Dries Joubert, also expressed his deep concern with the deteriorating safety situation near the Zimbabwean border. In a media statement released this week, he said the porous borders of South Africa are a ticking time bomb that could have serious consequences for all South Africans and could well affect the number of tourists visiting South Africa in 2010. Joubert said Government should again consider paying border farmers danger pay as compensation for government’s inability to protect law-abiding citizens, living in danger daily. He said the closing of the commandos in South Africa can be regarded as criminally irresponsible. No form of safety and protection was in place when the SANDF closed the commandos. Victims of crime in the border areas should investigate the possibility to hold the SANDF responsible for their pain, suffering and loss. Joubert said even now, in 2007, no national plan with regard to sector policing is firmly in place as yet.