WITH no formal employment, Mr Bekithemba Ncube (not his real name) says smuggling groceries and other goods from neighbouring Botswana for resale in Bulawayo helps him put food on the table for his family.
The financial benefits from the illegal trade outweigh the risks of arrests and jail time, he argues.
“We travel mostly at night to evade arrest,” says Mr Ncube, an informal trader who runs a small grocery shop in Bulawayo’s busy 5th Avenue market for agricultural produce.
A number of grocery shops, mostly selling cheap smuggled goods, have “taken” over trading spaces at Bulawayo’s agricultural market. The grocery shops are always crowded while other traders that purchase those goods from “smugglers” operate from city pavements.
“If I am not travelling to Botswana, my links provide the groceries from the neighbouring country via illegal entry points, paying bribes along the way where possible. We resort to smuggling because of the high duty taxes and corruption at the immigration points. And besides, borders are closed,” says Mr Ncube.
According to police, the smuggling of goods via illegal entry points in rural Plumtree is also rampant citing the recent arrests of smugglers. In May, Matabeleland South police confiscated an assortment of smuggled goods in Mbimba and Madlambuzi in Plumtree.
“On 16 May, police in Madlambuzi intercepted a grey Toyota D4D twin cab FF20 HP GP with trailer FH19PM GP laden with smuggled goods at Madlambuzi Business Centre and nabbed Mqondisi Dube, Reason Ncube and Butholezwe Mkwanazi for smuggling. Police also recovered an abandoned Toyota GD6 vehicle GIMM74 with trailer 002GIF GP at Mbimba Business Centre laden with smuggled goods.”
A month later in June, police revealed the arrest of three other suspects for smuggling goods into the country in Nxele, also in Plumtree.
“On 26 June, police in Plumtree arrested three suspects for smuggling and recovered 6×43 inch LED television sets, 26 Waxiba radios, 15 Bluetooth box speakers, 50 litres of diesel and various clothing at Nxele illegal cross point,” the ZRP added.
Various State security organs are involved in joint border patrols code-named “Operation No to Cross-border Crimes” to curb the illegal border crossings by returning residents.
Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe has said drones will be deployed at the borders to fight the vice. However, the practice continues to flourish under law enforcement watch. Bulawayo-based economic commentator Mr Reginald Shoko called on policymakers to address challenges facing local industry.
“Fighting smuggling is a good way of doing things but is not a panacea of solving the problems that are facing the local industry and consumers which then forces the consumer to lean more on smuggled goods. We need to look at the build-up of prices from electricity, labour cost and all other cost drivers that affect the final pricing structure in Zimbabwe so that the prices are competitive.”
Estimates by the Government and other independent agencies show that the illegal smuggling of goods costs the Treasury nearly US$1 billion a year in unpaid customs duty. Without any means of escaping the socio-economic crisis characterised by high unemployment, Mr Ncube says the need to fend for his family motivates him to continue with the vice.
“If the employed are struggling to make ends meet, how do they expect us to survive? . . . .this is my meal ticket also,” Mr Ncube says. — The Citizen bulletin.