Smugglers up in smoke

truck_zimJOHANNESBURG - Two Harare men, Ezekiel Munyaradzi and Arthur Maodza, were arrested along the N1 road in Louis Trichardt when their car carrying contraband cigarettes with a market value of R82 000 was intercepted last week. (Pictured: Large trucks are being used to ferry goods across the border illeg

The two are just a few of the unlucky smugglers caught taking Zimbabwean cigarettes across the border into South Africa, while others are exported to European and Asian countries.

Matabeleland South police spokesperson, Inspector Tafanana Dzirutwe, said information gathered by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) indicated Zimbabwean cigarettes were of high-grade quality, cheaper and sold faster in South Africa and beyond.

Zimbabwean cigarettes are of a high quality especially the Pacific and Remington Gold brands. We are reliably informed that they are in the same class as Peter Stuyvesant. Our sources indicate that once the cigarettes cross the boarder some are put on the streets where they sell for less than the South Africa brands. There are others that go as far as Durban to be shipped to European and Asian countries where they will be sold as counterfeit Stuyvesant, said the police spokesperson.

An official from a cigarette company said contraband cigarettes were generally cheaper because no one paid duty for them.

It is true that Zimbabwean cigarettes are generally cheaper, but they even get cheaper when smuggled since no duty is paid for them. Cigarette smuggling has quick returns that is why people do it.

The limit on how many cartoons that can be transported legally across the border, is two.

When you have two cases you tell the customs people that you only smoke one type of brand and where you are going the brand is not readily available, a border transporter said.

These transporters at the Beitbridge boarder post are known as Gumagumass because they are part of a huge smuggling network that ranges from cars, drugs and other things that have high import and export duty.

Just how are cigarettes smuggled out of Zimbabwe through the Beitbridge border?

Truckers are some of the biggest smugglers in this area. For instance he can be driving a truck full of sugar but cases of cigarettes will be hidden in his truck. At times, this is done with the knowledge of patrol officers who are given bribes. In other instances they do it alone. In most cases when a smuggler is caught it is either he would have failed to pay a bribe or it was through a tip off, says Makhosi Sithole, a clearing agent working for a freight company in Beitbridge.

On the South African side there are scanners that detect when there are cigarettes being transported. However, there is a way to go around them.

You just have to pay the officers and you pass, adds Sithole.

Cross border transporters, known as Omalayitsha, whose job is to transport groceries and property sent by Zimbabweans working in South Africa, are also used as cigarette smugglers when they return to South Africa.

Zimbabwean tobacco has always been in demand internationally so fueling the smuggling syndicates. The “golden leaf” was the county’s main export product, accounting for about 50 per cent of Zimbabwe’s foreign currency earnings.

Zimbabwe was the second-largest producer of flue-cured tobacco after the United States in the 1990s. Its crop was recognised for its quality in major tobacco markets in Europe, Asia and the US.

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