From Thupeyo Muleya in Beitbridge—
South African police have intensified the search for a five-year-old Zimbabwean girl who went missing near the New Limpopo Bridge a fortnight ago when a group of 11 illegal immigrants she was travelling with was attacked by a hippopotamus. Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto said yesterday that some of the immigrants escaped with minor injuries following the attack.
She said the girl and her mother were part of the group which wanted to enter that country illegally through Beitbridge border post on the night of December 31. “Along the way, they were chased by a hippopotamus and some sustained minor injuries,” she said. “They ran away in all directions and since then the five-year-old girl has been missing.
“Despite extended searches, nothing has been found yet. Members of the South African police search and rescue unit as well as the air wing intensified search operations during the weekend.”
Col Otto said the mother tried to look for the girl without success for a week until she reported to the police last week. She urged members of the public to ensure that they are documented and to make use of official entry points to avoid risking their lives or prosecution.
“Too many people die trying to enter illegally as they either drown, are attacked by animals or criminals who rape, rob or kill them,” said Col Otto. There are an estimated 200 illegal crossing points between South Africa and Zimbabwe’s boundary line along the Limpopo River.
The rampant illegal movement of people and smuggling of goods between the two countries have seen border authorities intensifying patrol on both sides of the river. In December last year alone, 200 children were intercepted along the boundary line while being smuggled to South Africa.
Three people, including a nine-year-old boy, were attacked and killed by a hippo near the scene while trying to illegally cross into South Africa in December. In May last year, two criminals who were in the habit of waylaying and robbing border jumpers at the spillway and Dulibadzimu Gorge along the same river were also killed by a hippo.
A few months ago, a gang of 18 men, including suspected border jumpers and fishermen teamed up and killed a crocodile which wanted to attack them at an illegal crossing point along the river, some 900 metres east of the bridge.