Bambatha Rifles net cigarettes worth millions in three border busts

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The South Africa/Zimbabwe border appears to be the main entry point of illicit cigarettes into South Africa, as evidenced by several massive busts by vigilant South African Army soldiers on border patrol.

Soldiers from Bambatha Regiment on an Operation Corona border protection tasking deployment recently intercepted three separate groups of smugglers, confiscating over R5.2 million worth of illicit cigarettes. Additionally, the part-time soldiers took four vehicles with a combined value of R1.25 million from one group of smugglers.

The successful busts were, according to Captain Moses Semono of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Tactical Headquarters Limpopo, all carried out in a week of “intense operations” in Bambatha Rifles’ area of responsibility in January and were what is termed “waylay operations”.

The four vehicles carrying tobacco products valued at R1 321 171, on which no excise or customs duty was paid, had their journey on Makavhini Road in the Madimbo area abruptly cut short by soldiers. There is no indication of any suspects handed to police for arrest from this specific operation.

Soldiers based in the Echo Station 2 operational area found themselves with R2 447 468 worth of illicit cigarettes abandoned by smugglers in their haste to cross the Limpopo River back into Zimbabwe.

Much the same happened at a support base close to the Beitbridge port of entry (PoE). Spotting approaching soldiers, smugglers ditched their loads and ran back to Zimbabwe.

As is standard operating procedure (SOP), confiscated goods were handed to customs officials and police.

Acting Officer Commanding Joint Tactical Headquarters Limpopo, Lieutenant Colonel Frans Lechuti, congratulated Major Thabang Tsotetsi, who is the Acting Officer Commanding Bambatha Rifles.

The latest available statistics from the Joint Operations Division on its Operation Corona border protection tasking show soldiers confiscated more than R16 million worth of contraband (including cigarettes) from smugglers in December 2023 as well as firearms valued at R20 000, and over R330 000 worth of stolen vehicles. Some 1 400 illegal immigrants were apprehended by soldiers in December.