Soldiers net stolen vehicles, contraband and illegal immigrants in January


Vehicle theft and export to neighbouring countries is seemingly a “growth sector” if recoveries by soldiers and police is any measure.

Official SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Division figures for January show soldiers were part of recovering 18 vehicles, mostly top-end bakkies and SUVs, as well as three motorcycles. The vehicles were in the process of being smuggled out of South Africa via land borders with Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Reinforcing an apparent “boom” in stolen vehicle exports are 15 recoveries with Mozambique the preferred destination. An operation on 28 January by members of 15 SA Infantry Battalion along the Mozambique border netted three stolen vehicles, recovered after a shootout with vehicle smugglers.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) in response to complaints from northern KwaZulu-Natal residents indicated 100 police officers would be moved to the area with a specific brief to combat vehicle theft. This after locals told police, including national commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, they were losing an increasing number of vehicles destined for Mozambique to criminal syndicates. Masemola was reported as telling a meeting in Hluhluwe latest police statistics show a decline in vehicle theft in northern KwaZulu-Natal with more resources needed to be deployed “long term” to further reduce this particular crime.

Contraband with an estimated street value in excess of R4 million was confiscated by soldiers in January and included narcotics such as dagga and kat, according to SANDF Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC). As ever, Mozambique was the major “exporter” of contraband (R2.9 million plus) with smugglers attempting to enter South Africa via Eastern Cape from Lesotho the second largest illegal exporter with seized contraband valued at R1.1 million.

One of the original Operation Copper mandates – to stop illegal immigration – is ongoing with January’s “catch” being over four thousand three hundred. Mozambique is again the number one contributor followed by Zimbabwe on 1 204, a thousand two hundred less than people stopped on Mozambique’s borders with KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

“During the festive season there were high number of immigrants moving from South Africa to Lesotho and in January there was a high influx of legal and illegal immigrants from Lesotho to South Africa. Criminal activities increased in that period. To curb all illegal activities soldiers were involved in joint operations with different security clusters,” reports Lieutenant VJ Fuzani for the SANDF.

“To mitigate escalating crime during the festive season, Joint Operations and independent military operations were intensified. Operations between 15 December and 20 January yielded successes including the arrest of 3 028 undocumented persons, one 81 mm mortar smoke bomb and one 7.62 mm round discovered. Two vehicles with trailers were impounded for transporting stolen livestock,” the SANDF reported. Drugs, illicit cigarettes and livestock were recovered along with stolen vehicles.