Since the beginning of the Zimbabwean economic crisis in the mid 2000s, majority of Zimbabwean citizens have faced many challenges including unemployment and harsh conditions of living. This forced many people including unaccompanied children to cross the border to neighbouring countries.[1] Some of those crossing the borders did and continue to do so illegally and for children, it means that they have to find ways to survive alone in the host country. As the topic of undocumented immigrants in South Africa is being widely spoken about especially amid raids and attacks on foreign nationals, it is important that the media cover these stories focussing on children as they are rarely if not ever reported on when it comes to the issue.[2]

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) therefore selects “Undocumented children face uncertain future” (New Frame, 13/08/2019) as a GLAD[3] for its report on the migrant children living in Musina, many of them without documentation. The article written by Jan Bornman, also appeared in the Sunday Independent (18/08/2019, p.15) under the same headline. In the article, two children and an adult are profiled as they crossed the border into Limpopo as minors and without their parents or guardians. The journalist uses pseudonyms, Mudiwa and Mamboanesu for the children in a deliberate effort to protect their identities. The article also states that “names have been changed to protect identities” and MMA applauds this. MMA is also GLAD of the fact that the photographs of children used in the article have been silhouetted to hide the children’s identities.

The article highlights how these children survived the difficult journey for a better life across the border to South Africa, crossing the crocodile infested Limpopo River and evading border patrols and “a lion”.  The journalist gives the children a voice throughout the article. Mudiwa, 17, who narrates why and how she crossed the border, is quoted saying at the end of her profile, “I want to become an international lawyer because if I’m an international lawyer, I will be able to help young girls coming through. They don’t have documents and sometimes they are forced to go back. So may be if they have someone to help them, they have a voice, things would be much better.”  

It is important that children are provided with the opportunity to speak for themselves as this challenges the stereotypical portrayal of children as helpless victims[4] and as not having a voice.[5]

The article also provides statistical context to the story. This offers readers an insight to the quantity and legal status of migrant children living in South Africa. The statistics provided by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town show that “34% of the 325 children surveyed had no documentation [and] that 40% of [them] were at risk of statelessness”. Other than quoting from the Scalabrini report on migrant children in South Africa and accessing an official from the centre, two other sources from centres where these unaccompanied and separated children are housed, are also accessed. These two sources highlight the challenges these children face and their “uncertain futures because of their legal status in the country”.

MMA again congratulates Jan Bornman and New Frame on a child focussed and interesting article about undocumented children, whom we rarely see in news media. The article not only discusses them but also accesses and quotes them. Well done!


By Ntsako Manganyi

[1] See

[2] Research by Media Monitoring Africa shows that immigration is not a topic that the media reports on. See (Slide 5)

[3] A GLAD refers to an article where the rights and welfare of children have been promoted

[4]  (slide 8)

[5]  (slide 6)