The lure of what appeared to be easy money ended badly for a soldier, caught with a consignment of apparently illegal cigarettes, in Limpopo at the weekend.
Making matters worse for the as yet unnamed soldier, identified only as a non-commissioned officer (NCO), whose unit is not disclosed, is that he was transporting his apparently illegal goods in a military vehicle.
With cigarettes and other tobacco products still on government’s banned list as South Africa enters level three of the national disaster lockdown, the black market is thriving.
The Directorate: Corporate Communications (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said the soldier was arrested by military police in Seshego outside Polokwane on Sunday (31 May).
“Military police following up on a tip-off about a military vehicle suspected of carrying illegal cigarettes traced and arrested a suspect. An investigation is underway and its findings will form the basis of charges against the NCO,” a statement said, without indicating if the suspect was in custody.
Soldiers deployed on the national border protection tasking Operation Corona confiscated cigarettes and alcohol conservatively valued at over R2 million in April, the first month of national lockdown. Cigarettes alone were valued at R1.6 million, substantially more than the R1.07 million reported in March for all contraband seized by soldiers.
The tobacco products ban has opened a major black market for cigarettes with a University of Cape Town investigation showing 80% of South Africa’s estimated 12 million smokers are regularly buying cigarettes. Purchases take place at bus and taxi ranks, shopping mall parking areas and even from “back doors” of businesses.
Smokers are paying up to R100 for a pack of 20 cigarettes such as the Pacific brand, regularly confiscated by soldiers apprehending cross border smugglers and illegal immigrants.