Smugglers push the envelope, use boats for smuggling

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SMUGGLING syndicates operating along the Zimbabwe-South Africa border have devised a“sophisticated” way of conducting their illicit business by using inflatable boats to cross the  flooded Limpopo River.

Investigations by The Chronicle revealed that the syndicates, working in cahoots with villagers in Makakavhule area in Beitbridge, smuggle border jumpers and a wide range of banned commodities for fees ranging from between R100 and R500 depending on the quantities.

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The racketeering takes place at night and during the day under the nose of security details patrolling the border. 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.

The smugglers, oblivious to the dangers of drowning or being attacked by crocodiles, have virtually turned the illegal crossing area into immigration offices for those without passports.Some of the inflatable boats are allegedly owned by South African white commercial farmers who reside along the river.

“Some South African farmers along the border own these boats and they work in cahoots with these smuggling syndicates to smuggle cheap labour from Zimbabwe. Most of their farm workers are Beitbridge villagers living in areas along the border and with these boats it’s actually convenient to transport them,” said one villager who only identified himself as Kenny.

He said most South African farmers who lived along the border were cashing in on desperate Zimbabweans who hired the boats to cross the Limpopo.

The villagers are illegally employed in neighbouring South African farms and exploited by the farmers.One of the smugglers, who declined to be named, said the minimal cost for a “cruise” into South Africa is R100.

“I make a lot of money from undocumented travellers because the river is in food. I have a boat which I bought from South Africa which I use to smuggle border jumpers and goods from South Africa. I charge a minimum of R100 but in January the fees were higher because there was a lot of demand as most people were trekking back after the Christmas holiday,” said the smuggler.

The news crew met a group of prospective border jumpers on the banks of the Limpopo River with their luggage waiting for the “cruise” to South Africa.

The smugglers, including women, strip to their undergarments before crossing. The owners of the goods wait for their commodities on the other side of the river, ready with vehicles to ferry the contraband. There is a network of roads cleared by the smugglers.

The Chronicle also observed that there is a group of young people permanently stationed at the illegal crossing points waiting to assist smugglers of goods and border jumpers.At one of the crossing points, the news crew spotted an inflatable boat hidden in the shrubs near the river.At Makakavhule, about 30km west of the border town, the news crew observed a kombi pulling out of an illegal crossing point carrying a consignment of beer, groceries and tyres.

Despite the risk involved and the number of drowning incidents occurring in the Limpopo River, those involved in the smuggling business seem unfazed.

Last week one of the smugglers, John Ndou (23) of Zwaphele area drowned in Limpopo River while trying to retrieve his inflatable boat which was laden with smuggled banned chicken from South Africa. The body was found two days later by local villagers following a search. Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Philisani Ndebele referred questions to the national police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi whose phone continuously went unanswered yesterday.

The Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Cde Obedingwa Mguni recently told the Senate that the Government was aware of people who crossed into South Africa via the Limpopo River, and his ministry was exploring ways to stop it.

“We have implemented new technology. We are bringing in the drones that are able to fly,

patrolling along the border post. We have an inter-ministerial committee involved. “Finance and other ministries like the Ministry of Mines are now buying those machines so that they can fly to take care of those boundaries to see who is crossing so that we search for those  people,” he said.

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Source: Chronicle

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