Shervorn Monaghan

The political unrest and seemingly endless elections that continue to mar Zimababwe’s economy have forced many of its citizens to look for a life elsewhere, usually crossing over the border to South Africa. In search of work, shelter and food, thousands of Zimbabweans have migrated to cities like Johannesburg. Now, they face a new ordeal as xenophobic violence against foreigners has erupted in South Africa. Zimbabweans, Somalis, Mozambicans and Malawians have been singled out and attacked in Johannesburg and neighbouring areas, as South Africans accuse foreigners of taking their jobs and, ironically enough, contributing to violence. At least 42 people have been murdered, some beaten to death or burned alive in their homes, and around 200 have been arrested for charges of rape and murder. At present, more than 200,000 are seeking sanctuary in police stations, churches and community halls, in a desperate attempt to avoid the mobs of attackers and bystanders cheering on their violence.

In February of this year, photographer Shervorn Monaghan was in Musina, the point of entry into South Africa for most Zimbabweans, photographing people who have arrived or are about to be deported and hearing their stories.

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At the Beitbridge border crossing, two long concrete bridges span the Limpopo. Hundreds of Zimbabweans cross the wide, crocodile infested river daily, dart across shrub-land and wriggle through rows of barbed wire fence to reach South Africa, in search of work and food.

Many are following relatives who left before them, to work on South African farms. Hundreds of Zimbabweans live a modest life on farm compounds where they provide cheaper labour than their South African counterparts. Their work entitles them to stay in South Africa, but the memories of the border crossing remain fresh in their minds.

For those attempting to reach Johannesburg, the journey is far more uncertain. At the dusty border town of Musina, Superintendent Maggy Mathebula describes a game of cat and mouse – illegal Zimbabweans are deported, but upon their release they head straight back to South Africa. Many are back in Musina’s detention centre on the same day that they left, with the hope that, sooner or later, they will slip through the net.

Attitudes to this influx of desperate migrants vary within Musina’s community. Some farmers welcome the cheap labour, but others are less pleased at the trespassers crossing their land, leaving a trail of damaged property. While they tend not to resort to violence, South African farmers know how to use a gun.

It remains to be seen whether the elections reverse the economic meltdown which is driving people out of Zimbabwe. Musina’s authorities don’t expect things to change anytime soon – they are building a huge new police station and a detention centre with double the current capacity.