South Africa is deporting an average of 3,900 illegal Zimbabwean migrants every week, the International Organization for Migration says. That is up more than 40 percent from the second half of 2006, and six times the number South African officials said they were expelling in late 2003.
And that reflects only those who are captured. Many more Zimbabweans slip into the country undetected, although estimates vary wildly. In a nation of 46 million, most experts say, undocumented Zimbabweans could number several hundred thousand to two million.
Social tensions are ratcheting up in both nations, as Zimbabwe’s adult population dwindles and South Africans, already burdened by high unemployment, face new competition for jobs and housing. The migrants also pose a diplomatic problem, because South Africa is trying to broker an end to Zimbabwe’s long political crisis without criticizing its government or appearing to have a major stake in the outcome.
The situation is inflicting ever more misery on the Zimbabweans. The vast majority flee their country’s penury to find a way to support their families back home. But in South Africa they often find xenophobia, exploitation and a government unwilling and ill-equipped to help them....
Remittances keep the economy afloat: half of all households get most of their money from distant friends and relatives, a Global Poverty Research survey concluded last June. More than one in five of those who sent money lived in South Africa, the most of any nation except Britain....
“The problem in giving someone asylum is that you have to make a statement about the country that individual is fleeing,” said Mr. Maroleng, at the Pretoria institute. “Politically, it raises questions, and it undermines the government’s policy on Zimbabwe, which is not to engage the government of Zimbabwe” on questions of repression and misrule.
So migrants wait for a chance at legal residence that may never arrive. On Thursday, a schoolteacher and union official from Harare used his Zimbabwe civil-service passport to walk across the border in Beitbridge and make his way to Johannesburg.
The teacher, who insisted on anonymity, said he had left his wife and two children behind because he was living in fear. He had been arrested and beaten after joining a union march in September, he said. “As we go forward toward elections in 2008,” he said, “we are again targets of violence. Every morning, my life was very much in danger.”
But he might have stayed, he said, had his monthly salary not been the equivalent of $15.
Another teacher, a friend, had fled Zimbabwe last year after government spies mistook a wake in her parlor for a meeting of opposition members, and set fire to her house, she said. ...