The Sunday Mail
Emmanuel Kafe recently in MUTARE
THE smuggling of counterfeit distilled beverages — mainly whisky, brandy, gin and vodka — into the country through the Forbes Border Post in Mutare, is as easy as ABC, The Sunday Mail Society has gathered.
Investigations carried out by this paper revealed that a significant amount of the fake beverages that are being sold outside bottle stores, street corners and open-air joints, are finding their way into the country through this port of entry.
Following our publication of an article detailing how some entertainment joints and supermarkets are selling counterfeit beverages, we travelled to Mutare to dig deeper into how the fake beverages are finding their way into the country.
From the investigation, we gathered that Mutare is the nerve centre in the smuggling and distribution of not only the beverages, but also second-hand clothing and foodstuffs. Clear beers, which are cheaper in Mozambique, are also being smuggled into Zimbabwe.
Footwear, tobacco, cigarettes, banned skin lightening creams, blankets, food stuffs, motor vehicle spare parts and electrical gadgets, among other goods, are also being smuggled into Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, we gathered that well-knit cartels of officials manning the border post, businesspeople, transporters and middlemen are behind this seemingly lucrative business.
Besides the Forbes Border Post, smugglers also use the Sango and Mount Selinda entry points.
According to information availed by sources, the counterfeit beverages are mostly manufactured in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Brazil, among other countries.
They are then shipped to Mozambique via the Port of Beira.
Long distance haulage trucks then smuggle the counterfeits using the various entry points.
In Mozambique, the counterfeit beverages cost less than what they fetch in Zimbabwe. For example, a 750ml bottle of counterfeit Jameson whiskey is pegged at US$12 in Mozambique. The same bottle is being sold for between US$25 and US$35 in Zimbabwe.
Investigations revealed that instead of going all the way to Beira, which is about 300 kilometres from Mutare, some middlemen and business people are opting to buy the counterfeit beverages in Manica, a sprawling Mozambican town located a few kilometres from Forbes Border Post.
The dirty path
Our investigations revealed that Forbes Border Post is the major entry point for the counterfeit beverages and other goods.
Zimbabwe Revenue Authority officials here are allegedly conniving with transporters, middlemen, cross-border bus employees and traders, to smuggle all types of goods, among them the fake beverages.
The counterfeit beverages are concealed in secret compartments in long-distance haulage trucks.
Besides transporting the goods, cross-border bus drivers are also allegedly acting as the go-betweens for the smuggling syndicates.
Sources said upon arrival at the border post, the cross-border drivers approach corrupt border officials to bribe them.
After this, buses carrying the smuggled goods are not searched.
Besides being well-knit, the smuggling syndicates are said to be well-organised and well-resourced.
From the border, some of the contraband is loaded into trains, long-distance trucks, private and public vehicles.
Sources said the syndicates either avoid roadblocks or pay their way through them.
Apart from the legal entry point at the Forbes Border Post, the smugglers also use other illegal entry points that are dotted along the Zimbabwe-Mozambican border near Mutare.
The daring smugglers risk life and limb passing through the Cecil Kop Nature Reserve as they smuggle the goods.
Some of the smugglers also use the landmine-infested routes near Bordervale and other entry points in Penhalonga and at Imbeza.
This reporter observed as loads of goods, especially second-hand clothes, were brought into the country through these illegal entry points.
The goods were then loaded onto private vehicles for transportation to different destinations.
Alex Ticharwa, a smuggler, said traders and businessmen were averse to paying customs duties, hence the use of the illegal crossing points.
“It’s not as easy as many think. Smuggling goods from Mozambique is dangerous. We risk being attacked by animals in the bush,’’ Ticharwa said.
He added that for smooth movement, the smugglers often bribe both Zimbabwean and Mozambican border officials.
It also emerged that the syndicates have also managed to establish parallel distribution networks, which are supplying counterfeit beverages to entertainment joints and supermarkets.
Besides the premium whiskies, cheap and poor quality alcoholic beverages such as Soldier and Zed, which are produced in Mozambique but are banned in Zimbabwe, are finding their way into Mutare. The cheap quality brews are then distributed to the rest of the country.
In Mutare, “backyard breweries”, where some illicit brews are produced, have also sprouted.
Efforts to get a comment from Francis Chimanda, the Zimra spokesperson, were fruitless as he was not picking up calls.
Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers’ Association, said smuggling wass a cancer that must be stopped.
“There is a need to change the border management system and adopt advanced technology,” Mutashu said.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said he would only comment on specific smuggling cases, where perpetrators have been arrested. However, he did not rule out the smuggling cases involving counterfeit beverages.
Initiatives like border patrols, roadblocks, site visits, post-importation audits, scanners, physical searches, whistle-blower facilities and cargo monitoring will go a long way in thwarting these nefarious activities.
Social media was recently awash with allegations that some people had died due to suspected alcohol poisoning after unknowingly consuming the counterfeit whiskies.
The number of the alleged victims ranged between 10 and 15 people countrywide.
However, police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the ZRP was yet to record any cases of people that have died due to alcohol poisoning.
Ass Comm Nyathi went on to say the police were embarking on an operation to flush out those behind the counterfeit beverages.
Health and social effects
Online sources indicate that consuming elicit brews can result in pregnant women suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Parental drinking can lead to child abuse, which will have a negative impact on the social, psychological and economic development of the child.
Other family members may end up having substantial mental health problems such as anxiety, fear and depression, psychologist Skumbuzo Mangena said.
“Drinking can negatively affect how a person performs as a parent, as well as how they contribute to the smooth functioning of the household.
“It can have lasting effects on their partner and children, for instance through home accidents and violence,” he said.
With regards to drinking alcohol that contains dangerous chemicals, he said this could cause nausea, abdominal pain, drowsiness and permanent kidney or liver damage.
Global market research organisation Euromonitor International has launched a global study on illicit alcohol.
The multi-region report compiles findings from 24 countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Results show that 26 percent of the total volume of alcohol consumed in these countries is illicit.
Out of the 25 countries covered by Euromonitor’s research, Africa has the largest illicit alcohol problem. Whilst almost double the number of countries were covered in South America, Africans consume double the volumes of illicit alcohol.
As smuggling syndicates intensify their operations, the country is losing millions in potential tax revenue.