Electric Fence

Residents living near the Botswana border with Zimbabwe have welcomed a move by the Botswana government to erect a 10-foot-high electrified fence to separate the two countries. Officially, the fence is to keep out livestock from Zimbabwe suspected of carrying foot-and-mouth disease but people are hoping it will block the path of thousands of illegal immigrants who are fleeing the political and economic turmoil in Zimbabwe.
Now that the electric fence is nearly complete, villagers wonder whether it will deliver a shock powerful enough to stop the Zimbabweans, whom they blame for Botswana’s rising number of thefts, rapes and other crimes. “We still don’t know whether it will work. The generator is very weak,” said Simon Lephalo, a member of the local council. No one knows how many illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe have reached Botswana but authorities estimate at least one million. So far this year, more than 36 000 Zimbabweans have been deported. Although Botswana’s economy has come to depend on them for cheap labour, Zimbabweans are largely viewed here as a nuisance, responsible for the sharp rise in prostitution, theft, rape and murder.
“Zimbabweans are hated so much. It’s as if you are something stinking,” says Nomsa Mdlozu, a reporter who covers immigration issues for Francistown’s newspaper, The Voice. Zimbabweans are also the target of a growing vigilante movement in Botswana. In Francistown, police recently rushed to rescue a Zimbabwean from an angry mob that had accused him of stealing a purse. In Tlokweng near Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, the chief called for the expulsion of Zimbabweans from his village, arguing that they were responsible for escalating crime rates.
This year, Botswana’s government amended its laws so foreigners could be tried in tribal courts, where chiefs may mete out humiliating sentences such as public lashings. A survey by the Southern African Migration Project found that a majority of Batswana support having an electrified border fence to control illegal immigrants. In the eyes of many Batswana, the animal control fence is a convenient obstacle for humans as well as cattle.

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