June 13, 2007

In Africa, a desperate stampede

MUSINA, South Africa -- The greasy brown river sliding past this African border town might seem eerily familiar to Americans.

First, there are the concrete international bridges that span its waters, linking a relatively affluent community on one side -- tidy, well-paved, replete with American franchises such as Kentucky Fried Chicken -- with a dustier, much poorer town on the other.

Then there are the illegal immigrants. They hunker by the hundreds in the riverside brush, waiting for nightfall to crawl under a porous border fence. Grim-faced law-enforcement agents hunt them down in trucks equipped with flashing police lights. So do posse of angry civilians, most of them white, many of them armed, and all of them outraged by what they see as a dangerous lapse in border controls.

Squint, and the scene could pass for the banks of the Rio Grande between the United States and Mexico -- except, that is, for the jaded baboons ambling among the human pedestrians on the bridges and a sign identifying this muddy waterway as the Limpopo River, the troubled frontier between Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the finish line for one of the largest illicit migrations in the world.


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