Hollywood star jolted by zim 'mess'

An emotional Matt Damon listened to a Zimbabwean woman describe how she was raped while pregnant after crossing the border into South Africa.

An emotional Matt Damon listened to a Zimbabwean woman describe how she was raped while pregnant after crossing the border into South Africa.

The 18-year-old was raped last year by a friend of the taxi driver who promised her a job when she arrived in South Africa. She had bribed a police officer to allow her to cross the border illegally.

On her first night, the taxi driver took the woman, who was five months pregnant at the time, to a house to stay.

"That is where it happened. I screamed, no one heard me," she said, crying as a watery-eyed Damon swallowed hard.

The Associated Press on Tuesday accompanied the Hollywood actor to Musina on the SA border with Zimbabwe, which is battling to cope with an influx of Zimbabweans fleeing the economic collapse and dire humanitarian conditions in their country.

Damon founded the human rights organisation Not On Our Watch with other Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney. The organisation has drawn attention to the crisis in Darfur and assisted with humanitarian aid in Haiti and Myanmar.

"I have spoken to so many people who went through so much to get to this point. It is testament to the situation in Zimbabwe," Damon said.

There are about 3 million Zimbabweans living in SA with as many as 6000 crossing the border daily, according to some estimates. Many go back within a few days with food and essential items.

But others make a perilous journey across the border. They are forced to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River and enter through holes in the poorly patrolled border fence, often paying exorbitant fees to guides.

Aid agencies are concerned about an increase in the number of children making the crossing and incidents of sexual violence against women.

The Uniting Reform Church is one of the local organisations offering assistance to Zimbabweans that Damon visited.

The Hollywood actor also spent some time at the Musina showgrounds where UN and South African government officials have set up a reception centre to process asylum seekers.

About 5000 Zimbabweans are camped out here, in a sandy patch of land, strewn with rubbish and personal belongings. Some have erected make-shift structures, while others sleep on pieces of cardboard. There are about a dozen toilets and only a few taps.

UN officials say numbers of asylum seekers are increasing and that 250 applications are processed everyday.

Damon, who listened to heart-wrenching stories in the scorching heat, said the Musina situation was "untenable" and that "action has to be taken".

"To know that there are these kids who should be in school, who deserve to be, who didn't create any of this mess is shocking and sad," he said.

A new unity government in Zimbabwe is hoping for about R20 billion in aid to help rebuild the country.

Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, was recently forced into a coalition with long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai. But there are doubts over how much power Mugabe is prepared to relinquish.

"Everyone is hopeful that the unity government works and every pressure should be exerted on it to live up to its promises," Damon said.

Damon is in South Africa making a film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela. The film is based on the uplifting moment soon after the end of apartheid when South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Damon said he hoped to use his "celebrity capital" to raise awareness about Zimbabwe. He said it was important to keep pressure on international and regional leaders into helping Zimbabwe resolve its problems.

"I feel it is morally incumbent, that if we who can get coverage, get coverage for something like this, than for the latest shampoo," he said.

Orphan Nyambuya, has not had the chance to see any of Damon's blockbusters, but he knows about Hollywood. His eyes light up when he discovers that man in the blue jeans who had sat on grass with him was one of its stars.

"If it is Hollywood, then they can help. Maybe they can help by giving food and clothes." - Sapa-AP