Some rogue elements within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are ripping off Zimbabwean business people by demanding huge bribes to facilitate their entry into South Africa for the purpose of restocking their wares.
The so-called South African “good Samaritan” soldiers have on numerous occasions caught on camera escorting illegal cross border traders from the Zimbabwean side to South Africa.
Reports of some SANDF involved in some corrupt dealings with Zimbabweans recently came out when South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, appeared before that country’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts where she seemed unaware of the illegal activities.
She instead defended argued that the soldiers were merely assisting “needy Zimbabweans purchase food supplies and medication”.
However, sources in Beitbridge dismissed the South African minister’s submissions as gross misrepresentation of facts, arguing that this was clear corruption being masked as benevolence.
They said that it was as clear as sunshine that the soldiers’ clients were anything but needy but business people who are paying handsome monies for trouble free access into South Africa, in a typical case of officially facilitated nefarious activities.
“Many people who cross daily to the South African side are traders operating along the border seeking to restock their wares”, said Lovemore Ndlovu, who is tuckshop owner in Gwanda.
“During this lockdown period, we have to pay between 300 rands to 500 rands for safe passage into South Africa” added Ndlovu.
Tafadzwa Bwanyai, a regular cross border trader said that SANDF soldiers sometimes obtain goods at prices which were much lower than in South African shops.
He boasted that the soldiers could buy goods directly from manufacturers or wholesalers at a discount.
“SANDF soldiers are making a killing by being bush immigration and customs officials for Zimbabweans and other nationalities. This bribery is not limited to Zimbabweans only,” he said.
Corruption among SANDF officers has risen to a level where the soldiers are being employed by Zimbabwean traders as messengers or porters.
Byron Sithole told The Herald that for 750 rands, “SANDF mules” could fetch groceries for traders from as far as Musina and deliver them to sites along the Limpopo from where one then collects them.
When asked if such payments did not render their business unprofitable, Sithole said that the officers were sourcing the goods cheaply and that the traders were saving a lot by not paying duty and avoiding transport and other costs.
Investigations also revealed that the SANDF forces along the border had mutated into some form of organised crime gang.
The proceeds of their corrupt activities are reportedly distributed to all, including the command element. The security implications of the alleged corrupt activities in Beitbridge poses a grave security threat given the existence of drug mules, human traffickers, terrorists, who can easily manipulate SANDF and the South African police to gain passage for a fee.