Guma Guma: a vicious welcome to SA

By Time of article published Jun 27, 2008

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By Shaun Smillie

A crumpled condom, a bag ripped open by a knife and a bloodied towel.

A man who knows the area says the evidence is the aftermath of a rape, committed in the dead of night, deep in the bush, close to the Zimbabwe border in northern Limpopo.

The victim is possibly a Zimbabwean woman, most likely headed for the Musina/Alldays road about 100 metres from where the attack happened.

The only protection she had were the 20-odd female condoms that lay scattered in the sand.

This crime scene is just one of many on a farm about 10km from the border. Each is marked by a bundle of clothes and a few personal items.

The telltale sign, explains tracker Jonas, are that the bags are always ripped open. It is the work, he says, of the Guma Guma, gangs of criminals who prey on illegal Zimbabweans as they cross over the border.

Their Shona name means "to hit with your shoulder".

They steal and sometimes they rape.

Through reading the spoor, Jonas can tell how these criminal acts unfolded.

"You see there," he says, pointing to a flattened cardboard box about 15m from were the condom lay, "that is where they waited." It was the Guma Guma ambush site.

Baby clothes suggest the woman had a child. In a bush nearby lies a 20 000 Zimbabwe dollar note. "They wouldn't take that because it is useless," Jonas says.

The reason for all the condoms, explains Jonas, is that Zimbabwean women cross the border carrying them, if they are raped, they might be spared being infected with HIV.

Footprints lead away from the scene. "They are soft shoes and they are light, it is a woman's spoor."

The tracks head towards the Musina/All Days road. Her fate is unknown.

Close by is another bundle of clothes, tiny shoes, a toddler's bottle and jar of baby food. There is also a Zanu-PF membership card, complete with a photo of Robert Mugabe. It belongs to a man, but Jonas suspects that it was carried by a woman.

"They carry those cards for protection on the Zimbabwean side," he explains.

On the ground are scuff marks, and the few blades of grass are flattened. "It is here where they fought," says Jonas.

Often the Guma Guma are armed, or in some cases threaten people with toy guns. For protection, border jumpers travel in larger groups, carrying stones. Piles of these stones lie next to the Musina/Alldays road where they have been discarded.

On the road they pile into taxis heading to Musina, and ultimately Gauteng.

But sometimes the border jumpers appear to get the better of the Guma Guma. Earlier this year, three bodies were found hanging from a tree.

"They had been strung up with wire. Their guns were left at their feet and they were stabbed with their own knives," says Jonas.

An orange found at the scene had a message written on it: "We are looking for you, Guma Guma".

The Guma Guma aren't the only criminals operating in the area. Cigarette smugglers regularly cross from Zimbabwe, a country renowned for its tobacco.

An ambulance, it is rumoured, transports cigarettes. The joke is that when the siren is on, it is carrying another consignment of contraband cigarettes.

Cigarette smugglers' spoor, Jonas points out, are imprinted deeper in the sand, indicating they are carrying something heavy.

Illegal Zimbabwe cigarettes are known as Robert Gabriel Mugabes, or RGs for short. Jonas has a pack; it cost him R6.

On a dirt track nearby are the tracks of about 40 people. The spoor is only hours old. Somewhere hidden in the bush, they are waiting for nightfall so that they can continue their journey south.

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