By Phyllis Kachere in MUSINA
IT took Ms Sukoluhle Ncube (not her real name) four months to prepare for her journey to South Africa. She sold the only cow her late husband Mgcini had bequeathed to her and their five children on his death.
For her, the journey to South Africa symbolised all she had dreamt of; a better lifestyle for herself and the children.
But the journey ended tragically last week for the Lupane widow after she was raped by the men, known as omaguma-guma, who had promised to assist her cross illegally into South Africa.
“We were only two women out of the nine people in our group who were trying to cross into South Africa through the Tuli illegal crossing point.
“Before I left home in Lupane, I had paid three goats and R600 to an illegal transport operator we call umalayitsha who promised to facilitate my travel to South Africa.
“He is the one who linked me with these men who later raped me soon after we crossed the Limpopo at Tuli.”
Ms Ncube said soon after the five omaguma-guma had assisted them cross the Limpopo River into South Africa, a group of about 10 men emerged from the bush and started demanding cellphones and cash.
“They teamed up with our five guides and started physically searching us for valuables,” she said.
“I did not have a cellphone. After the body searches they called the other woman and myself aside, and they immediately began raping us.”
Ms Ncube said she was not sure how many men raped her, but believes that all the 15 men did.
The sexual assault resulted in her getting genital lacerations for which she was receiving treatment from doctors at the Medecins sans Frontieres clinic, a short distance from her shelter.
Ms Ncube says she has not reported the matter to the police on either side of the border because she believes the culprits may never be apprehended.
“Besides, I do not want my children and relatives to know this happened to me,” she said.
“It is a shameful thing and I don’t want anyone to know about this. If I report to the police, it also means I will be arrested for illegally crossing into South Africa without travel documents and then be deported.
“I don’t want to go back now. I have to bring food and clothing for my children. I can’t go back before I have even arrived at my destination.”
Ms Ncube said she hoped to proceed to either Johannesburg or Cape Town, depending on how much she will be able to raise in the next two months as she did odd jobs in Musina.
Her story is almost similar to the sad tales of the other 35 women sheltered at the Old Catholic Building.
The women said they had crossed illegally into South Africa because they did not have valid travel documents, but at the same time wished to job-hunt in South Africa.
“I have my two children to feed plus another child from my late brother to feed and educate,” said another woman who said she was lucky to escape the rape but not the robbery.
“I am unemployed and I think if I go to South Africa, I can change my circumstances and be able to provide for my three dependants. I can’t afford the high passport fees.”
Matron at the Old Catholic Building Mrs Dorah Ncube said because of a lack of funding, they allow sexually abused women to stay at the centre for only three days.
“We don’t have enough funding, so we allow the Zimbabwean women to stay for only three days during which time they receive free meals and a roof over their heads,” she said.
“They also use this time to seek medical treatment.
“Most women who drop in report having been sexually abused by the hordes of omaguma-guma roaming the porous border between Zimbabwe and South Africa with the intention of robbing and raping border jumpers.
“Some of the women are treated for sexually transmitted infections by doctors at the Medecins san Frontieres clinic while others receive post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV.”
Some of the women said they did not want to report their sexual assault cases to the South African police because they are living illegally in that country.
“I can’t hand over myself to SAPS (South Africa Police Services) because I am here illegally,” said another woman who declined to be identified, but said she was 47 years old.
“Reporting the rape that occurred when I was crossing the Limpopo River means handing myself over. I can’t. I need to proceed.”
Officer commanding Beit-bridge Chief Superintendent Hosiah Muko-mbero said they would investigate and arrest any culprits if there are reports made.
“But it is difficult to investigate from one side of the border because these omaguma-guma are highly mobile,” he said.
“They could be on the other side of the border.”
Dr Giussepe Damola from the Medecins sans Frontieres clinic said since January, they had treated 15 sexually abused Zimbabwean women per month, but the numbers have since increased to 25.
“In March, we treated 35 sexually assaulted Zimbabwean women,” he said.
“We also provided some of them with post-exposure prophylaxis for those who presented their cases within 72 hours of the rape.”
Dr Damola said he believed the numbers of women who are sexually assaulted as they tried to illegally cross into South Africa was higher than those that presented themselves at the clinic.
“I believe the number (of sexually abused women) crossing into South Africa from Zimbabwe is higher than what we have recorded,” he said.
“Some of the women proceed to further destinations without coming to the clinic.”
Authorities on both sides of the border said they were beefing up security at the illegal crossing points, but warned that would fail to have an impact if the public did not co-operate.
“The women have to stop these illegal crossings,” said a South African senior police officer based at the border, who declined to be identified.
“Otherwise, they are just putting their lives in danger.
“They have to come forward and report for us to be able to investigate and arrest the culprits.”
While security officials figure out how to deal with the situation, omaguma-guma continue to rule the roost on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.