Porous borders give vendors a lifeline

Vendors and informal beer sellers here are doing brisk business, albeit illegally, selling cigarettes and opaque beer smuggled from neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Trade in such commodities is commonplace in Berea, Hillbrow and Yeoville, the populous Johannesburg suburbs where most Zimbabweans in South Africa live. While cigarettes smuggled from Zimbabwe have been sold on Johannesburg streets over the years, a survey by The Zimbabwean established that the traders have also found a viable market for opaque beer.

Investigations established that syndicates, mostly informal transport operators commonly known as omalayisha, were smuggling the beer through the porous Beitbridge Border Post. They take advantage of poor security or pay bribes to corrupt customs officials to facilitate the entry of the goods.

They also pay bribes to police officials operating on the highway between the border town of Musina and Johannesburg to avoid confiscation of the beer. Once in the capital, where Chibuku Scud and Ingwebu Calabash have proven popular, the beer is sold discreetly at the termini where omalayishas operate.

Some shebeen operators buy in bulk for resale. The products cost R15 – close to double the price they fetch back home. “The R15 price enables us to break even and covers the money lost through bribes to facilitate the entry of the beer,” said a malayisha who sells opaque beer.

“Business is brisk, particularly among the low-income earners who cannot afford bottled beer. Business is running so fast that I have to go to Zimbabwe on a weekly basis to restock,” he said.

Hillbrow Police warned against such practices saying the culprits would be dealt with. While beer smuggling is taking root, it is the smuggling of cigarettes that remains one of the biggest headaches South Africa faces.

The South African Revenue Services believes government loses R2 billion in tax revenue to this practice. SARS spokesperson, Adrian Lackay, recently told the media that illicit cigarettes were being smuggled into South Africa mainly from Zimbabwe.

Widespread corruption at entry points and along the porous Zimbabwe-South Africa border makes it easy for the smuggling of contraband that also includes minerals, agricultural products, guns, clothes and food items.

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