Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
ORGANISED syndicates have invaded areas along the Limpopo River at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa where they are facilitating border jumping through several undesignated entry points.
Investigations by The Chronicle revealed that the human smuggling syndicates are capitalising on the high demand for their “services” as desperate border jumpers, mostly undocumented injiva flock back to South Africa following the end of the festive season.
Some of the members of the syndicates are operating on the Limpopo Bridge taking advantage of the porous Beitbridge Border Post.
They are reportedly carrying out their nefarious activities right under the nose of security agents.
Investigations revealed that some of the syndicates involve law enforcement and security agents manning the bridge and areas along the Limpopo River.
The Chronicle news crew on Wednesday visited Makakavhule village, Nottingham and Sentinel areas outside Beitbridge where some villagers involved in smuggling border jumpers have erected makeshift structures from which they operate 24 hours a day depending on demand for their services.
This reporter, posing as a border jumper, approached one Lutendo Ndou at an illegal crossing point in Makakavhule and he demanded R500 border jumping fee.
“I can assist you illegally cross the border to Maroyi Farm (in neighbouring South Africa outside Musina) where you can then connect to Johannesburg and for me to do that, I need just R500. In fact, I am very cheap compared to some of my colleagues who charge between R800 and R1 000,” said Ndou.
Asked whether he was not afraid of police and soldiers manning the border area, the seemingly unfazed Ndou replied: “My friend, we are in this game together. Once I get clients (border jumpers), I make it a point that I alert soldiers and police operating in my turf and after the job is done, I give them their share and we call it clearance fee.”
Like many other border jumping linchpins, Ndou says his “business” thrives on “connections” in both countries. He said on a good day, he takes home about R7 000.
“Some of these people that we assist are Zimbabweans who illegally acquired South African passports and they prefer using illegal crossing points for fear of being interrogated by inquisitive Home Affairs officials and possibly ending up losing those documents and getting deported,” said Ndou.
The news crew observed considerable traffic of illegal immigrants crossing the border to either side through the dry sections of the Limpopo river.
The smugglers are taking advantage of the decline in water levels in the Limpopo River due to drought.
“I have inflatable boats that I usually use to smuggle border jumpers but this time the water levels have gone down and in some sections of the river it is dry making it quite easy for me to smuggle people,” said Ndou.
Another member of a smuggling gang who however, declined to be named, bragged about how he uses his “connections” with soldiers on both Zimbabwean and South African sides of the border who demand kickbacks to facilitate illegal migration.
“I have been doing this business of smuggling border jumpers for the past 10 years and I am now connected to these guys (soldiers) on both sides of the border. South Africa soldiers simply want bribes to allow you illegal entry into their country,” he said.
The Chronicle newscrew observed that some of the illegal crossing points are used as major conduit for smuggling goods in and out of the country such as cigarettes, beer, groceries and household property.
Law enforcement agents manning the Limpopo River are also reportedly charging desperate border jumpers “clearance fees.”
The people who are paying to be assisted to jump the border, however, risk being attacked and robbed by criminals operating along this corridor which has about 200 illegal crossing points along the Limpopo River. Police patrolling the border told The Chronicle that hardly a week passes by without a smuggler or border jumper being reported to have been mugged or robbed by criminals. Tshikomitshini area near Sentinel Safari Ranch, is teeming with transporters of illegal immigrants and some enterprising people who have set up small shops and shebeens to cater for both smugglers and border jumpers.
Matabeleland South police spokesperson Chief Inspector Philisani Ndebele said patrol teams have been deployed along the border to curb border jumping and smuggling of goods. He however, said their efforts, were being hampered by lack of resources to effectively police all the hot spots.
“We have our patrol teams deployed along the border to fight nefarious activities such as smuggling and border jumping. However, the challenge we are facing is that we have too many illegal crossing points making it difficult for us to efficiently patrol the borderline,” said Chief Insp Ndebele.
“What makes it worse is that we have some sections of the Limpopo River, which are completely dry making it easy for border jumpers and smugglers to cross.”
On the issue of alleged corruption by security agents, Chief Insp Ndebele urged members of the public to report the culprits.
“As police we have zero tolerance to corruption and should any person come across any errant member of the police, they should report to us. We don’t want to rely on speculation but on tangible evidence and those caught on the wrong side of the law will be dealt with accordingly,” he said. — @mashnets.