Thupeyo Muleya Beitbridge Bureau
Crews and owners of buses caught smuggling goods across the border at Beitbridge face rising fines and the possible seizure of the bus involved as Zimra step up compliance of customs and increasingly search the buses.
The syndicates of smugglers are using buses in connivance with some crew members to move both prohibited items as well as avoid paying customs duty.
Passengers are allowed to bring in goods worth US$200 or R3 000 duty free once a month and anything else attracts duty of between 10 percent and 40 percent. Passengers and crews of buses are required to display any goods they are bringing in so Zimra staff can quickly ascertain if limits are being kept and then charge duty on anything not covered by the duty free concession.
Most of the smuggled goods are groceries, alcoholic drinks, and banned substances such as restricted cough syrups, chicken and fish, and genetically modified foods. Generally they are destined for tuck shops and stores.
After catching several crews breaking the law, Zimra has since written to the bus operators on its concerns over the upsurge of smuggling cases via Beitbridge.
In a letter signed by a senior manager at Beitbridge, Mr William Gadzikwa, Zimra said with immediate effect punitive measures were being introduced to whip non-compliant transporters into line.
“Failure to comply with the set rules and regulations will result in punitive fines being imposed and as a last resort seizure and forfeiture of your buses will be effected especially for repeated offences,” said Mr Gadzikwa in the letter.
“We have noted the following issues, which are of major concern at our border and are affecting revenue collection, trade and travel facilitation.
“In some instances, the buses are carrying goods from South Africa which are not manifested from the point of loading and some are not pre-clearing commercial goods as required by the customs laws.”
Zimra also noted an increase in buses carrying prohibited goods from South Africa among them chickens, fish and yoghurt. Where necessary, the importers are expected to acquire the required permits from the relevant Government department.
Mr Gadzikwa said some bus crews were failing to offload the goods at the border for compliance checks as laid down in the customs import and export procedures.
“We have also observed with concern the delays in payments as and when assessments are raised for duty payments and the delays in goods to the State warehouses where detentions are to be made,” he said.
“With immediate effect please ensure you urgently address all the above issues through your bus crew members and your agents based at the border. Let’s all make this festive season a smooth travel whilst we comply with the customs laws for the good of our country,” said Mr Gadzikwa.
The head of the security task force deployed at the border with South Africa, Chief Superintendent Bekezela Ndlovu, said Zimra was not relenting on the quest to enforce the law.
Last week alone, she said, her unit intercepted 12 buses carrying illegal contraband from South Africa which had since been seized by Zimra.
In the same week, she said they had also intercepted 140 buses with under-declared goods and the owners were made to top up the duty and they were released.
“We want to strongly warn those involved in various cross border crimes that their days are numbered. Our security teams are out in full force,” said Chief Supt Ndlovu.
Zimra’s Commissioner for Customs and Excise, Mr Batsirai Chadzingwa, told the National Security Working council during a visit to Beitbridge recently that Zimra was in the process of acquiring two new fast scanners with a capacity to scan 120 commercial trucks an hour.
The creation of separate customs routes for freight, bus and light vehicles, and pedestrians would enhance the enforcement and compliance initiatives to boost revenue collection.
At the moment, a total of 100 buses, 3 000 light vehicles and between 900 and 1 000 commercial trucks use Beitbridge Border Post daily.