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No evidence photo shows South African soldiers helping illegal Zimbabwean migrants

A Facebook post published on 12 January 2021 claims to show soldiers from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) assisting migrants illegally crossing a land border into South Africa. 

The post includes a photo of what appears to be two women and two armed men dressed in military fatigues. One of the women is straddling a wire fence while the two soldiers and the other woman watch. 

The photo is captioned: “South African soldiers assist illegal immigrants to jump border fence. Just waste of tax money.”

Does this photo show SANDF soldiers helping migrants cross a national border? We checked. 


Photo from 2008

A reverse image search reveals that the photo was originally taken by Welsh photojournalist Jason Tanner in 2008. 

It was published on his website with a caption explaining that the women were Zimbabwean and were fleeing state-sanctioned violence in the aftermath of the 2008 election. 

“Two ladies are caught by member of South Africa military trying to cross illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe,” the caption begins.

It explains that as many as 100 Zimbabweans were attempting to cross the border each day and that many of them were captured, detained, and deported within 24 hours by the SANDF. 

There is no indication that the soldiers in the photo were assisting the women. 

100s of Zimbabweans arrested for attempting to smuggle groceries

In October 2020 South African news site News24 reported that some SANDF soldiers were allowing starving Zimbabweans to cross the border at Beitbridge illegally so they could buy food and medicine in South Africa. 

But local competitor eNCA reported that hundreds of Zimbabweans were arrested by SANDF soldiers while attempting to smuggle groceries back to their country. 

Poorer Zimbabweans have reportedly become more dependent on basic supplies from South Africa in the wake of one of the worst economic crises the country has faced. The crisis saw Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate rise by 840% in July 2020.

The photo shared on social media in January 2021 was taken in the aftermath of the 2008 Zimbabwe election and many of those who entered South Africa illegally then were deported. 


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