1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. South Africa

Sleeping rough better than repatriation to Zimbabwe

Merycinah Chauke and her son being treated for cholera at Madimbo Clinic, in South Africa's northern Limpopo Province in December 2008
(Taurai Maduna/IRIN)

After just a few hours on a drip, Merycinah Chauke said she could see an improvement in her three-year-old son, under treatment for cholera in a makeshift emergency centre at Madimbo Clinic, in South Africa's northern Limpopo Province.

"We came in this morning after I noticed he was continuously vomiting and having diarrhoea," said a still worried Chauke as she offered her boy a sip of water.

The giant tent in the grounds of Madimbo Clinic, 85km south of the Zimbabwean border, is one of two emergency centres set up to deal with a cholera outbreak that has been declared a disaster by the provincial government.

More than 660 cases of suspected cholera have been recorded in Limpopo over the past month, with eight deaths.

Madimbo Clinic serves the surrounding farming community, and the cholera cases they treat occur among the Zimbabwean migrants crossing the border looking for work as well as local residents. But as a public awareness campaign has got into gear, the numbers have fallen; on 15 December there were just four cases in the emergency unit, three of them children.

"We used to treat a lot of adults but now the numbers have dropped," Tshinakaho Mulaudzi, a health worker, told IRIN. She has been educating the community about the symptoms of cholera, and what can be done to prevent and treat it.

Musina, the town nearest the border with Zimbabwe, has been at the centre of South Africa's cholera outbreak, but the cholera treatment centre at the general hospital has also seen a marked reduction in cases, despite the epidemic continuing to rage in Zimbabwe.

"The situation has greatly improved; there are fewer cases of cholera that are being reported," said John Shiburu, provincial disaster relief coordinator at the South African Red Cross. Around 15 cases were being treated in Musina on 15 December.

Shiburu is still concerned about conditions at the Musina show grounds, an expanse of public land on the outskirts of the town where more than 2,000 people, mostly Zimbabweans seeking asylum, are sheltering.

Suffering in show grounds

There are only a few water taps, and the portable toilets that have been provided are blocked; bedding often consists of a flattened cardboard box laid out on the dusty ground.

Asylum seekers at the show grounds in Musina, December 2008

Taurai Maduna/IRIN
Asylum seekers at the show grounds in Musina, December 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
One-stop 72-hour process to legalize Zimbabweans
Asylum seekers at the show grounds in Musina, December 2008

Photo: Taurai Maduna/IRIN
Testing times at show grounds

"We are feeding close to 2,000 people every day, there is no shelter and clean water; hygiene has been compromised," said Shiburu. The asylum seekers who have money buy buckets of cooked meat, rice and maize-meal porridge from hawkers - a heightened health hazard in an area where a disease that is spread by poor sanitation is present.

People endure the conditions at the show grounds because of its proximity to the Department of Home Affairs office, where people queue daily for asylum application forms, and hope for safety from repatriation to Zimbabwe.

The queue for registration is long and fractious. "Home Affairs is delaying processing asylum papers - I have been here for the past week and I am struggling to get a form. More and more people are coming every day," said a young Zimbabwean man, who asked not to be named.

Yet he told IRIN that sleeping rough at the show grounds, and putting up with the pushing and shoving in the application queue, was better than life in Zimbabwe with its unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Individual tragedies of people, vulnerable and desperate, are common in Musina. One migrant from Masvingo, in southern Zimbabwe, said that some of those lucky enough to win asylum papers had run out of money, and where now selling their hard-won documents.

Another would-be refugee told IRIN: "There are some girls who are sleeping with anyone for as little as R10 [US$1] to buy a plate of sadza [maize-meal porridge]".


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.