Wednesday, 11 August 2021


 GOVERNMENT continues to lose millions of dollars in potential revenue as unrelenting smugglers and border jumpers continue to defy Covid-19 lockdown regulations by escalating their illegal activities on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.

Despite a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country, smuggling continues unabated as border jumping linchpins operating along the Limpopo River are capitalising on the dry riverbed to illegally bring goods into the country using donkey-drawn scotch carts.

The illegal activities are happening under the nose of security agents deployed at several illegal crossing points dotted along the river.

A Chronicle news crew at the weekend visited some of the illegal crossing points and observed smugglers carrying out their illegal activities despite the heavy presence of soldiers and police.

Cars could be seen parked in secluded places in the bush waiting to ferry smuggled goods to their destination.

Smugglers have literally turned several illegal crossing points into permanent camping sites where huge consignments of goods worth millions of dollars are illegally brought in and out of the country daily, exposing communities living along the Zimbabwe-South Africa border to Covid-19.

Men use donkey-drawn carts to pick up smugglers crossing from South Africa at the dry section of Limpopo River in Tshikwalakwala on Saturday

They are defying lockdown regulations by illegally crossing the border, raising concerns of the spread of the coronavirus in areas lying along the border.

President Mnangagwa on Monday further extended national lockdown level four by another two weeks and warned that Zimbabwe faces the threat of a fourth wave being experienced in other countries. The country is in the middle of a third wave which has seen a spike in new infections and deaths.

The Delta variant has been attributed to 80 percent of Covid-19 cases being recorded in the country which has seen nearly 4 000 people succumbing to the pandemic nationally.

Smugglers, including security agents deployed to the illegal crossing points do not even take extra precautions to curb the spread of Covid-19 such as wearing face masks and sanitising. South Africa has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Africa.

Investigations by Chronicle revealed that soldiers and police on both sides of the border are bribed varying amounts to facilitate the smuggling of goods and border jumping.

Several people, mostly regular cross-border traders who eke out a living through buying and selling goods sourced from South Africa, are the main culprits.

Chronicle also established that illegal crossing points are used as major conduits for smuggling goods in and out of the country such as cigarettes, beer, groceries and household property among other commercial goods.

Huge consignments are smuggled at night under the cover of darkness while small    groceries are brought into the country during the day.

Posing as a smuggler, the Chronicle news crew observed police officers and soldiers collecting money from smugglers. They have a register book where they keep the names and contact details of their “regular customers.”

Mr Dickson Hlongwane, local village head in Makholwa area in Tshikwalakwala, said illegal activities are carried out in broad daylight, raising strong suspicion that soldiers and police could be part of the smuggling syndicates.

“We have some people coming all the way from Chiredzi and surrounding villages in Mozambique via the Sengwe Corridor. The river is dry making it is easy for people to cross the Limpopo River into South Africa,” he said.

“It is common knowledge that smugglers bribe security agents for passage. Our worry is that in light of a surge in Covid-19 cases, villagers are now at risk of catching the virus through smuggling and border jumping.”

Scotch-cart operators are used as shuttles to transport smuggled goods across the river. They also ferry border jumpers to the illegal crossing points and charge R100 per person.

The smuggling syndicates are capitalising on the high demand of their “services” as desperate cross-border traders affected by the closure of Beitbridge Border Post to human traffic, resort to border jumping.

Beitbridge Border Post has since the national lockdown been closed to human traffic save for commercial cargo as part of Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

Selected undesignated crossing points visited by the Chronicle include Tshikwalakwala, River Ranch and Panda Mine on the outskirts of Beitbridge where a group of men and women are involved in assisting smugglers to illegally cross the Limpopo River into farms in the neighbouring country where they eventually board lifts to Musina, which is the nearest town.

Chronicle news crew also caught up with two kombis carrying contrabands concealed under canvas material in trailers.

“We normally pay Zimbabwean soldiers and police R100, which we refer to as a ‘tollgate fee’ to illegally cross the border to South Africa.

Upon returning with smuggled goods, we pay between R200 and R500 depending on the quantities,” said Mr Vhutshilo Muleya of Tshikwalakwala Village. He said on the South African side, soldiers also demand money to allow them entry.

A suspected smuggler negotiates his way to pick up goods at a crossing point along Limpopo River. Pic

Some local villagers have also turned illegal crossing points into open markets where they are selling beer and food to smugglers.

Ms Mpho Mbedzi of Dumba Village, frequents the Panda Mine illegal crossing point daily where she operates an illegal food vending site on the banks of the Limpopo River, targeting smugglers and people waiting to assist border jumpers.

“We survive on selling foodstuff and beer to smugglers and border jumpers. Lately this place has been a hive of activity since the closure of the border. A lot of people who want to smuggle their goods use these illegal crossing points and they are forced to spend hours waiting for their goods to be transported,” she said.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said there is an operation underway targeting smugglers and border jumpers with 40 000 people, among them police officers, having been arrested so far.

Men take stock of their day’s work of carrying smugglers from South Africa across the dry section of Limpopo River in Tshikwalakwala on Saturday

“There is an operation, which is ongoing where we have deployed our personnel to man all the country’s points of entry and exit. So far, we have arrested over 40 000 people and we have members of the ZRP Supports Unit and other security services who are also involved,” he said.

“In terms of what is happening at Tshikwalakwala and other areas along the Limpopo River, we are now investigating what is happening on the ground. If we have people who are smuggling goods and depriving the State of revenue, I can assure you that action will be taken against those smugglers including police officers involved.”

While delivering his keynote address during the 41st anniversary of the formation of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) yesterday, President Mnangagwa warned security agents against tarnishing the image of the country by engaging in criminal activities.Chronicle


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