Import restrictions fuel rampant smuggling in Beitbridge
SMUGGLING of commodities into the country has escalated following the implementation of Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016 with the Government losing millions of dollars every week in unpaid customs duty.
The instrument restricts the importation of some goods produced locally. But rampant smuggling activities are taking place at illegal crossing points dotted along the Limpopo River, The Chronicle can reveal.
The import restrictions which were introduced in June this year removed 42 products from the open general import licence, restricting their importation, as it was felt that local industry has capacity to produce them.
SI 64 of 2016 controls a wide array of products among them coffee creamers, camphor creams, white petroleum jellies, body lotions, builders’ ware such as wheelbarrows, structures and parts of structures of iron or steel, bridges and bridge sections, lock gates, lattice masts, roof, roof frameworks and doors.
A Chronicle news crew last week visited some of the undesignated entry points outside Beitbridge and established that a network of well-organised syndicates has invaded the spots.
Investigations revealed that the smuggling syndicates work in cahoots with villagers living along the border to smuggle a wide range of goods from South Africa. The racketeering takes place at night under the nose of security details patrolling the borderline.
Beitbridge Border Post contributes 70 percent of all the customs duty collected in Zimbabwe and 30 percent of the country’s source of revenue comes from customs duty.
At Nottingham Estate, about 40km west of the border town, the news crew observed a one tonne truck being loaded with smuggled goods shortly after 8PM.
The goods, which were concealed under a consignment of oranges, included alcoholic beverages and boxes of cooking oil.
The smugglers are taking advantage of the dry Limpopo riverbed to cross the border using 4x4 vehicles.
“I get a number of people who approach me every week so that I help them to identify illegal crossing points to smuggle their goods from South Africa and that is how I make a living. They usually bring 4x4 vehicles to cross the dry riverbed and the goods that are being smuggled range from small grocery items to television sets, refrigerators, couches,” said a villager who declined to reveal his identity.
Another villager from Malale, who only identified himself as Maanda, said some of the smugglers bribed both South African and local police and soldiers patrolling the border on either side to facilitate their illegal activities.
The smugglers risk being attacked and robbed by criminals operating along the corridor with an estimated 200 illegal crossing points along the Limpopo River.
Police patrolling the border told The Chronicle that hardly a week passes by without a smuggler or border jumper being reported to have been mugged or robbed by criminals.
The smuggling is fuelled by villagers who live within the border area.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to travel between 80km and 100km to Beitbridge Border Post to buy groceries when I can simply walk across the river for less than 10km and bring the items without the hassles of going through the rigorous customs and immigration processes,” said one villager.
Some of the homesteads at Dumba and Mawale villagers are being used as “warehouses” for smuggled goods.
The goods are reportedly smuggled at night and temporarily kept at some homesteads as the owners monitored the situation.
A Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) official who requested anonymity admitted that smuggling syndicates were dodging the border.
“It’s difficult to monitor smuggling because there are so many crossing points along the Limpopo River,” he said.
Beitbridge Border Post is the biggest port of entry in Sub-Saharan Africa linking Zimbabwe to South Africa.
Suspected smugglers make their way from Dumba Village in Beitbridge to the Limpopo River on donkey-drawn carts to collect goods smuggled from South Africa. The bad state of the roads makes them inaccessible to cars. (Picture by Obey Sibanda)