BY MOSES MATENGA
SURROGATES in the tobacco industry have come under fire for destroying the industry and illegally taking unlicensed tobacco worth R10 million to South Africa and other countries at the expense of the country’s farmers.
This follows the recovery of unlicensed tobacco from Zimbabwe last week in an East London warehouse in South Africa, confirming fears of smuggling and underhand dealings.
Last month, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands and Agriculture raised similar fears during a tour of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) offices in Harare.
South African officials, including the police working with customs officials, confirmed the recovery unprocessed tobacco worth R10 million at a warehouse in the town’s Thorn Park area, suspected to have been smuggled through the Beitbridge Border Post.
A 31-year-old male suspect has since been arrested for possession of unprocessed tobacco and bribery after customs officials stopped a truck with a cargo of unlicensed tobacco. South African police spokesperson Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana said about 1 279 boxes weighing 200 kilogrammes of both raw and cut rag tobacco were found during the raid.
The suspect is due to appear at the East London Magistrates’ Court charged with possession of unprocessed tobacco and bribery.
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands and Agriculture chairperson Justice Mayor Wadyajena yesterday said: “These are the issues we have always been raising as a committee and we have received several reports of massive underhand dealings in the industry. It is something we are determined to stop and thanks to this revelation, it points to exactly what we have been saying though most people are either corrupted or scared of the cartels and mafia controlling this multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry. The cartels and mafia are well-known and nothing will stop the committee from cleansing and dealing with this rot until the farmer and country benefit.”
Harare North MP Norman Markham added: “I have never seen a rich surrogate buyer. You can’t have a country sponsoring inputs and the tobacco is bought by someone else. Those surrogates are detrimental to the tobacco industry, to the farmer and also to the country.”