Harare - Six buses full of Zimbabweans fleeing xenophobic violence in Durban have crossed the border back home - and some on board have harrowing tales to tell of the attacks they witnessed, state media reported on Tuesday.
The first batch of 407 Zimbabwean repatriates only arrived on the Zimbabwean side of Beitbridge border post late on Monday after a four-hour delay on the South African side of the crossing, the official Chronicle newspaper said in Bulawayo.
Up to 2 000 Zimbabweans want to be repatriated.
One man spoke of watching his brother being beheaded in Durban in a terrible attack that has not yet been confirmed by South African police.
Climate Mushanga said a group of youths "stormed into our house and started assaulting us", killing Pepukai Museyi, his brother, the newspaper reported.
"I witnessed them killing my brother in a very brutal manner and I'm really devastated and that experience is now haunting me," Mushanga, 34, told the newspaper.
Dead and unidentified
Information minister Jonathan Moyo confirmed that some of the returnees were suggesting that the number of those killed in the attacks is much higher than is being reported.
Moyo said in a tweet: "Some of SA's victims of xenophobic attacks repatriated to Zim say number of the dead & unidentified in mortuaries is being suppressed. Sad!"
Police in South Africa have only confirmed the death of one Zimbabwean, a man identified only as Mhofu. One of the returnees confirmed seeing him killed, saying his throat was cut before his eyes, tongue and genitals were removed.
Taona Mapurisa said: "They took this boy who was popularly known as Mhofu and cut his throat before removing his eyes, tongue and private parts. It was so frightening and this is an experience that is quite chilling.
"In most cases police would simply watch as people were being butchered," she said.
More Zimbabweans are expected to arrive in Beitbridge on Tuesday. Each returning Zimbabwean has been given a food hamper and blankets, and there are extra goods for returning children. Psychological counselling is being offered to those who want it at the border.
Authorities have so far provided eight buses to ferry the returnees home.
Beitbridge is much more used to dealing with deported Zimbabweans rather than voluntary repatriates. Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans have slipped across the border to South Africa in the last 15 years, fleeing economic and political problems back home.
President Robert Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba dismissed as "crazy" claims that the long-time Zimbabwean leader's controversial policies were to blame for the flood of Zimbabwean migrants since 2000, an online website reported.
"Which Zimbabwean did [Mugabe] give passports to go to another country? Stop being crazy," Charamba told website newzimbabwe.com.