South Africa’s Minutemen

AFP/Getty Images Just when you think Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe couldn’t get any more tragic or chaotic, a new headline pops up to prove you wrong. Nearly 7500 people have been arrested for hoarding or violating new price controls on basic necessities in the past six weeks. Shops are being forced to sell what meager supplies ...

600129_070309_mugabe5.jpg
600129_070309_mugabe5.jpg

AFP/Getty Images

Just when you think Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe couldn't get any more tragic or chaotic, a new headline pops up to prove you wrong. Nearly 7500 people have been arrested for hoarding or violating new price controls on basic necessities in the past six weeks. Shops are being forced to sell what meager supplies of bread, meat, and sugar that they have at slashed prices—50 percent or more, as mandated by the state. The program is bankrupting businesses while making nary a dent in the country's runaway 10,000-percent inflation

The desperation felt by Zimbabwe's enormous underclass in this utterly stagnant economy has created one of the world's largest tides of illegal migration: poor Zimbabweans pouring across the borders into South Africa and Botswana. It's impossible to put accurate figures to the tide, but estimates suggest that up to 3.5 million Zimbabweans—a quarter of the country's population—have fled to South Africa alone. Thousands make the journey each day.

AFP/Getty Images

Just when you think Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe couldn’t get any more tragic or chaotic, a new headline pops up to prove you wrong. Nearly 7500 people have been arrested for hoarding or violating new price controls on basic necessities in the past six weeks. Shops are being forced to sell what meager supplies of bread, meat, and sugar that they have at slashed prices—50 percent or more, as mandated by the state. The program is bankrupting businesses while making nary a dent in the country’s runaway 10,000-percent inflation

The desperation felt by Zimbabwe’s enormous underclass in this utterly stagnant economy has created one of the world’s largest tides of illegal migration: poor Zimbabweans pouring across the borders into South Africa and Botswana. It’s impossible to put accurate figures to the tide, but estimates suggest that up to 3.5 million Zimbabweans—a quarter of the country’s population—have fled to South Africa alone. Thousands make the journey each day.

They are increasingly met by South African vigilante groups not unlike the “Minutemen” who patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Predominantly white farmers, these freelance border patrolmen argue that the influx of immigrants into South Africa threatens the country’s stability and prosperity, and they complain that the government does little to effectively police the border. Their methods may not be supremely popular, but their motivations are utterly mainstream. Ask anyone in South Africa or Botswana today how they feel about Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and they’ll tell you that the tide of immigrants concerns them. And the situation along the border has become increasingly fraught as the situation in Zimbabwe worsens.

And lest you think that runs on basic items like bread and flour are affecting Mr. Mugabe personally, don’t worry. His local grocery store is fully stocked.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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