Over a dozen Zimbabweans are feared to have drowned early this week while trying to cross into South Africa through the Limpopo River, as immigrants seek to escape economic problems in their country.
The group that was said to be using an inflatable boat was reported missing on Sunday, and on Wednesday police from Zimbabwe and South Africa said only one body had been retrieved about 40 kilometres west of the Beitbridge border post.
Two more bodies had been spotted on the deeper end of the South African side of the river and efforts were underway to retrieve them.
However, on Tuesday, divers failed to retrieve the bodies owing to the high water current.
Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo, the police officer commanding Beitbridge district in Zimbabwe, said they started the search on Monday after two women reported that their husbands had drowned while trying to cross the river into South Africa.
“The divers came across three bodies on Tuesday while searching for two men, who were reported to have drowned on Sunday,” Chief Superintendent Nyongo said.
“However, the bodies we have spotted so far are not of those two men reported missing. As police, we are still treating them as missing persons.
“The search is still on and efforts are being made to retrieve two more bodies that were sighted at the same point at a deeper end.”
He said they suspected more people could have drowned in the Limpopo River where the water levels have been rising following heavy rains in Zimbabwe in recent days.
Besides the risk of drowning, the immigrants also face the constant danger of being attacked by crocodiles while crossing the Limpopo River.
Many Zimbabweans based in South Africa are returning to their bases in the neighbouring country after visiting home for the festive season.
Most of them do not have travel documents and resort to using illegal entry points to cross the border.
South Africa said between Sunday and Monday it had arrested 700 illegal immigrants that had entered the country through the Beitbridge border post.
On Thursday, Zimbabwean police said they had arrested 89 277 people who were trying to cross the border illegally.
An International Organisation for Migration study last year revealed that there were more than 21 illegal crossing points on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The number of undocumented Zimbabweans living in South Africa is not known, but estimates put them at over three million.
Last month, South Africa said it was discontinuing a special permit system that benefited nearly 200 000 undocumented Zimbabweans.
The permits were introduced in 2009 to allow undocumented Zimbabweans to work and run businesses in South Africa.