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SAFRICA-IMMIGRATION 06-15 dk

10. South Africa

A desperate stampede

On the surface, the United States and South Africa couldn’t be more different in their public stance on illegal immigration. In the United States, even liberals who support granting citizenship rights to undocumented immigrants — and President Bush finds himself awkwardly in their camp — must frame their arguments in terms of national security and promise future border crackdowns. By contrast, in South Africa, which prides itself as a beacon of ethnic tolerance in the world, a grudging acceptance of illegal immigration is the unofficial rule.

Not that it has much choice.

Some immigration experts here say that 10 percent or more of South Africa’s 43 million people may be in the country illegally, the majority of them impoverished Africans seeking a better life in the continent’s economic powerhouse. With South Africa unable to afford more patrols along its 2,500 miles of land border, and realizing that illegal immigration keeps feeble neighbor Zimbabwe from total collapse, South African President Thabo Mbeki conceded last month that the enormous human influx "is something we have to live with."

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Hundreds of people — some walking 3,000 miles from Somalia with only the clothes on their backs — filter every day through the backcountry around Musina on well-beaten trails. At the approach of vehicles, they melt into bushes where the amagumaguma — local slang for the gangs of smugglers, thieves and rapists who prey on the migrants — also skulk.

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