The local police, South African Police Service (SAPS) and other state agents are conniving with smugglers to facilitate smooth crossing of illegal drugs and other illicit substances including cigarettes through porous borders exposing the two countries to dangerous drugs, a Business Times investigation has shown.
A month-long investigation that included engaging local bus owners, conductors and drivers who work closely with touts mainly at the Roadport, Highglen and other centres housing cross border busses, also unearthed a closely-knit team of smugglers that work with local police, the SAPS and other security arms to transport huge volumes of dangerous substances.
The investigation was done with support from the VMCZ investigative journalism fund on transnational crimes.
Dangerous substances finding their way into Zimbabwe include Broncleer that is being manufactured in Natal, South Africa, close to the Botswana border.
Since January, police have arrested close to 7 000 people involved in drug deals under an operation codenamed “No to Dangerous Drugs and Illicit Substance.”
Over 500 of those arrested are suppliers.
“A total of 6 921 people have been arrested since January countrywide,” Nyathi said.
“Of these, a total of 1 826 have been arrested by CID Drugs and Narcotics of which 630 have been taken to court, others paid fines.”
He said 565 people were arrested for supplying drugs and also confirmed that police officers were among those arrested.
“We are investigating (on smuggling and use of trucks and buses). (On police involvement) yes, the war against drugs will not spare anyone on the issue of fighting drugs and substance abuse. Remember we have also arrested company executives.”
The use of public vehicles
The investigation established that public transport is being used to facilitate smuggling of drugs with offenders using several methods including hiding contraband in tyres and trailers.
Early this year, a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) sniffer dog flushed out drugs from Proliner bus after making some indications around the trailer.
ZIMRA was quoted confirming the search saying they undertook to search an incoming Proliner bus bearing registration number HT51RV GP pulling a trailer with registration number DZ33RR GP from South Africa.
The sniffer dog made some indications at five different points around the trailer which prompted the team to conduct a full physical examination of the contents of the goods packed inside the bus trailer.
The search yielded the recovery of contraband of 25 boxes of Broncleer Syrup totalling (1250X 100MLS bottles). The assessed value of the detected contraband amounted to US$7 500.
“They put the drugs in tyres where no searches are conducted,” a source who is in the public transport business revealed.
“Others put the drugs in those huge tool boxes that are locked and no searches are usually conducted.”
How the syndicates operate
Players interviewed as part of the investigation said organised syndicates find it easy to transport drugs stashed under loads of groceries in haulage trucks where no searches are made.
The said trucks, it emerged, move in a convoy of over ten vehicles that are all “cleared at once” with organised teams including the police from both ends, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) officials among others who share the proceeds.
“Other trucks are simply cleared on the basis that they are transporting groceries. Some are cleared normally as groceries but not opened to check,” the source said.
Business Times was told of several bus operators operating around the Waterfalls, Zindoga area that use their garages as distribution points for smuggled drugs.
Findings of the investigations were corroborated by Yusuf Abramjee, Founder of the Tax Justice South Africa who confirmed the involvement of police from the respective countries.
He said there was no political will to fight the issue of smuggling including that of drugs and cigarettes.
He said drugs and cigarettes were also finding their way into South Africa from Zimbabwe, which is a transit nation.
“It is plainly evident that huge amounts of illicit goods are being trafficked over the porous border into South Africa,” Abramjee told Business Times.
“These pass into South Africa on a daily basis despite the presence of border officials who are supposed to prevent it from happening. This is evident from the high number of police seizures of large shipments of illicit cigarettes on roads in the region of the Beitbridge border.
“These are sometimes huge loads, transported on large trucks travelling in convoy. How they clear border checks is not so obvious. But it is known that the cartels running the smuggling networks have plenty of resources to fund the corruption.
“Sometimes, there is evidence that the smugglers are colluding with the South African Police Service, who have been accused of offering safe passage for their illicit convoys.”
Further investigations revealed that the trucks used in the smuggling of drugs move between 12 midnight to 4am where there is little activity at the border.
“It is a syndicate of different offices to facilitate the illegal movement of drugs and cigarettes,” the source added.
Abramjee said there was no political will between Harare and Pretoria to deal with the situation, an indication some political actors from both countries may be part of the deal.
In a recent statement, the Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation) said they remain determined to fight smuggling and dismantling and also paralysing the syndicate operations.
The Hawks, South African Police Service, Metro Police and many other law enforcement agencies have seized drugs that have been concealed in, among others, furniture, religious ornaments, toilet seats, tyres, hidden compartments.
Zimbabwe is a transit country for deadly illicit drugs that include heroin, cough mixtures such as Broncleer (bronco) and many others.
The porous borders and corrupt agents have irked Zimbabwean lawmakers who have advocated for stiffer measures to deal with the scourge.
The CIA in its World Factbook alleges that senior government officials are involved in drug trafficking while also naming Zimbabwe as the transit point for cannabis and South Asian heroin, methaqualone, and methamphetamines en route to South Africa.
As a transit country, Zimbabwe has also become a consumption country with mainly youths engaged in drug abuse that have received condemnation from the country’s highest office.
Lawmakers said it would be difficult to curb drug smuggling as security agents are being paid little to resist bribes.
Matabeleland South proportional representative MP Lindiwe Maphosa said it would be difficult to fight drug smuggling as long as police officers are poorly remunerated.
Beitbridge Border Post, which is a major drug smuggling route, is in Matabeleland South province.
“For example, we can say if you arrest a drug peddler, we will give you so much or if you have a clean record as a police officer at the border post we give you this. I am saying this because you cannot expect a police officer who is earning US$200 to arrest someone who is bringing in drugs worth more than US$10m.
“The person who is bringing drugs can just give the police officer US$1 000 and that will be the end.”
Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network executive director Wilson Box said: “Our borders are porous and these drugs are finding their way in the country.”