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Hard road to South Africa for fans for Zimbabwe's refugees

Hundreds of young Zimbabweans trying to flee their country’s tough regime arrive in South Africa every day as the nation prepares for thousands of football fans to descend for the World Cup.

Barbera is not a football fan. The 22 year-old spent more than a year planning to escape Zimbabwe, whose economy is in tatters, where poverty and unemployment are endemic and repression common. She invested her life savings and some borrowed money to become one of more than 300 Zimbabweans pouring across the Limpopo River into South Africa every day.

Her story is worlds apart from the hundreds of well-off foreign football supporters checking into purpose-built hotels in South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg, ahead of Friday, when the World Cup starts. For the next month the football fans and Zimbabwean refugees will live side by side in the same cities.

Barbera, a youth activist was forced to flee the Zimbabwean capital Harare. She was beaten in her own home with her mother and six-month-old daughter watching after her work with the opposition made her a target for government thugs.

She was raped, beaten and robbed on her journey out of the south east African country. Near the border she paid ‘guides’ to help her across the river into South Africa. But, "they stopped us in the bush and told us if we wanted to go further we would have to sleep with them," she told the Independent newspaper. "I said no. But they raped me anyway".

When she got there her first priority was to take an Aids test.

"I was lucky," she said. "If you're unlucky you'll be raped by someone who is HIV-positive."

Scores of other vulnerable women like her are raped by the gangs that roam the badlands between the two countries.

More than a year after Zimbabwe’s controversial power sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe, head of the armed forces and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, 2,100 Zimbabweans arrive at the department of Home Affairs office in the South African border town, Musina each week, seeking asylum. Just one per cent of them will get the refugee status they need.

South Africa’s government has shelved plans to give Zimbabweans temporary legal status, so they can stay and work in the country.
As many as two million Zimbabweans are in South Africa, according to government estimates. About 50,000 squatters live in derelict buildings in inner-city Johannesburg. 

Hayley attribution