The Limpopo River in southern Africa acts as a sludgy border that separates one of the continent’s poorest countries from one of its richest.Although it is one of Africa’s longest rivers, only 200 kilometres of the slow-moving, sediment-rich river can be navigated by boat due to the high concentration of silt in the water, and subsequent sandy build-up.The Limpopo curves gradually through Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe before spilling into the Indian Ocean along Mozambique’s coast.The river’s slow character was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in his Just So Stories as “the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”.
In spite of its lazy reputation, the river works to support a huge amount of life, with an estimated 14 million people living in its basin and a complex ecosystem existing within the Limpopo Valley.
The valley is home to large numbers of elephants, hippos and crocodiles (the Limpopo is also known as Crocodile River), as well as some 350 different species of birds.However, the Limpopo also acts as a political blockade that separates two nations: the river defines the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.Either side of the river is lined with electric fences from the Apartheid era; there is only one bridge that connects the two countries at the official border crossing at Beitbridge - one of South Africa’s busiest border posts.
In the last decade numbers of people crossing at Beitbridge has increased dramatically as up to five million Zimbabweans have fled into South Africa after extreme hyperinflation sunk their country into poverty.
The volume of people waiting to cross into South Africa has forced some desperate immigrants to attempt to cross the border illegally; during the rainy season, floods on the Limpopo can be fatal for those attempting to cross the bloated river.