SA soldiers allowing desperate Zimbabweans into South Africa to buy food

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South Africa has deployed heavily armed soldiers at the official Beitbridge border post as the country relaxes travel restrictions.

They are anticipating a large number of starving Zimbabweans to cross into South Africa.

On October 1, South Africa reopened some land borders as well as its three main airports.

However, the South African Soldiers deployed to secure this border are instead allowing hungry Zimbabweans to illegally cross the border to buy food and get medical supplies- local South African media reported Wednesday.

“Where we stay there is no food, there is not enough food so we are hungry,” she said. “We come to nearby shops and buy cheaper food, and then go back to Zimbabwe,” said Chauke a 45-year-old mother of five.

Many Zimbabweans rely on goods bought from richer South Africa for basic supplies, and informal cross-border trade is a lucrative business.

The fence separating South Africa and Zimbabwe has been notoriously porous since its de-electrification in 1994.

Some traders are risking the treacherous crocodile-infested Limpopo River which divides the two countries to reach more affordably-priced South African stores; “It’s so dangerous but there is nothing I can do,” said Chauke, who had not dared to venture across the border since South Africa locked down on March 27.

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SANDF military official David Mathetsha said, “A hungry stomach is capable of doing anything,” he explained, adding that officers had confiscated a variety of goods and bulk purchases. Mathetsha said that thousands of Zimbabweans crossed into South Africa each day before the pandemic. “At some stage you would arrest one person more than 20 times,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has weighed in on the debacle over the fence, saying sensors and drones will have to be deployed to better patrol the border. “It is clear that the whole thing of a fence has not worked, and probably will not work, it doesn’t matter the quality of the fence we put up,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Parliament has heard the Special Investigating Unit will approach the Special Tribunal on Thursday to freeze the bank account of the construction company involved.

The SIU has already handed over four criminal cases to the National Prosecuting Authority. These include the two service providers and two officials.

Thirteen public works officials, including the director-general and the minister’s advisor, are also facing disciplinary charges.

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