FOR months a cross-border transporter, known as umalayitsha, has observed his colleagues come up with all sorts of ideas to beat the system.
Since the closure of borders by countries worldwide in response to the Covid-19 pandemic early this year, the border separating Zimbabwe and South Africa was not spared.
Only essential goods are allowed to cross the border between the two neighbours, shutting omalayitsha out of business.
But the cross-border transporters are said to be relentless in their quest to outmanoeuvre the authorities and smuggle goods, mostly groceries, into Zimbabwe from South Africa.
Cigarettes and alcohol, currently outlawed in South Africa, find their way into that country from Zimbabwe, said a malayitsha — Sphamandla Nkala.
This is his story . . .
“The closure of the Beitbridge border caught most of us unaware and some of us were left stranded in Zimbabwe while the other guys were in South Africa. We initially thought the border would be reopened sooner than later but the rising cases of Covid-19 especially in South Africa were not encouraging.
“It soon became clear that we had to find new ways to continue with our business and the most viable option was to deal with truck drivers making deliveries in Zimbabwe or passing through enroute to Zambia,” narrated Nkala.
The cross-border transporters on either side of the border had to work together, albeit separated by thousands of kilometres.
“The guys in South Africa collect groceries from our regular clients in Johannesburg and pass them over to truck drivers coming to Zimbabwe. We, the guys in Zimbabwe, collect the groceries in Beitbridge as soon as the truck drivers cross the border and then proceed to make deliveries to the recipients in Bulawayo, Tsholotsho, Lupane and Kezi among other places,” he explained.
New means of transportation emerge
With coronavirus wreaking havoc in South Africa, bodies continued to cross the border en masse and soon the cross-border transporters had found new ways of smuggling goods into Zimbabwe.
“It started with the hearse drivers transporting a few groceries for their families back in Zimbabwe in the Toyota Quantums that they use to ferry bodies for burial back home. Border authorities did not have problems with a few groceries in the vehicles but business for the hearse drivers started growing. More Zimbabweans started paying hearse drivers to transport their goods and eventually border officials began querying the large amounts of goods in the vehicles,” he said.
Beating the system
Nkala says the one place where groceries could be stuffed without raising the suspicions of border officials was the trailers with corpses and his colleagues did not think twice about utilising “the space”.
“Looking back, I think that our friends became too greedy and ended up stuffing groceries in the same trailer with dead bodies. No one bothered to ask themselves if it was safe to do so, considering that some of the dead people were suspected of having died of coronavirus,” he said.
Every corpse is treated as a coronavirus suspected death and strict health protocols must be followed right to the burial.
Recently, an audio of a malayitsha explaining how they stuff groceries together with dead bodies did rounds on social media. A picture of an assortment of groceries piled next to what appeared to be a dead body caused a stir in the two countries.
Police in both countries say they are yet to deal with such cases. Nkala says cross-border transporters will not stop smuggling goods into the country even if it means putting the lives of people at risk.
Recently, our sister paper Chronicle reported that a 30-year -old Zimbabwean man was arrested by South African police at Beitbridge Border Post while trying to smuggle explosives worth more than R700 000 into the neighbouring country in a hearse.
The contraband was concealed in a trailer that was being towed by a branded hearse with the name of an unidentified Johannesburg funeral undertaker.
The explosives included 306 units of blasting cartridges and four rims of detonating cord estimated to cost R700 800. It was not immediately established where the smuggled explosives were destined for. Last month, a cross border transporter was arrested a few kilometres from Gwanda town on his way to Bulawayo carrying suspected returnees from South Africa who sneaked into the country through illegal entry points at the Beitbridge border.
The returnees had allegedly sneaked into the country to avoid mandatory quarantine for anyone entering Zimbabwe from outside.
These individuals pose serious health risks as they are not tested for Covid-19 before joining their families and being exposed to the community.