Fleeing Zimbabwe means facing death
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Lisa Napoli: A careful calculation between poverty and certain danger. Every day as many as a thousand Zimbabweans illegally cross the border into neighboring South Africa. Gretchen Wilson reports border control agents are the least of their worries.
Gretchen Wilson: (background sound of walking through bush with sound of humming insects) Zimbabweans who cross the bush into South Africa travel at night and take only the essentials -- a little cash, some bread. They outwit leopards, lions and crocodiles. Then come ditches and razorwire fences. But all that's the easy part. Migrants like 20-year-old Miraz Nawan say there are more dangerous predators.
Miraz Nawan: It's too difficult to cross the bush.
They fear the "gumaguma" or criminal gangs. They're South Africans and Zimbabweans who maraud the bush to rob, assault and sometimes kill immigrants making the journey.
Nawan: To take money and the clothes, and they destroy my, my life.
Zimbabwe's poor take these risks to survive. Eighty percent of Zimbabweans don't have a job. Widespread hunger is creating a flood of economic refugees. These are the poorest and most desperate people in the region. But they're also the easiest marks for criminal gangs. Seventeen-year-old William heard he'd have to bribe the gumaguma when he jumped the border last year.
William: (background sounds of shoppers in a store) Yah, of course! They must be paid! To gumagumas. To allow me to cross here. Almost 50 rand.
He paid 50 rand, or about $7. That's more than the average monthly salary of a teacher. And the consequences of not having any money are dire.
Betty Chobo: If you don't have money, they kill you.
Twenty-five-year-old Betty Chobo was pregnant when she crossed into South Africa with her brother and sister last year.
Chobo: Yah, I see the gumagumas. And then we, we start to run. And then after that, they beat us. They kill my brother, my brother. And my sister, raped my sister.
Today, Betty works behind the counter in an informal corner store in the South African border town of Musina. She can feed her child here, which she says she wouldn't have been able to do in Zimbabwe.
At the South Africa-Zimbabwe border, I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.