Border protection tasking sees soldiers confiscate contraband, return livestock and nab illegals


Border patrols by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers are yielding significant results, with recent reports highlighting the persistence of the illegal cigarette trade, evidenced by notable seizures.

An indication of the size of the illegal cigarette trade in South Africa comes from the University of Cape Town (UCT) where research shows a loss of R17.6 billion in excise duties and VAT (value added tax) on this tobacco product in 2022.

Soldiers from both the regular and reserve components of the SA Army – assigned border protection duties as per Operation Corona – regularly confiscate large numbers of smuggled cigarettes, unfortunately no longer detailed in SANDF Joint Operations Division monthly statements on successes. From time to time, provincial tactical headquarters, with Limpopo leading the field, reports on specific seizures.

One example is Johannesburg-based Reserve Force unit, Bambatha Rifles (formerly Witwatersrand Rifles) which notched up significant illegal cigarette seizures in a three-month period. December saw the part-time soldiers deployed on the South Africa/Zimbabwe border in the Limpopo province stop a panel van loaded with R2 million plus worth of illegal cigarettes. This was followed by three separate busts in January by the same regiment, netting R5 million.

The last time a Joint Operations Division monthly Corona report gave a contraband breakdown was in January 2022. Since then cigarettes have been included in overall contraband figures, previously detailed as liquor, clothing and footwear, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

March contraband seizures totalled R4.1 million with the majority (R2.9 million) taken on the South Africa/Zimbabwe border. KwaZulu-Natal’s two international borders saw smugglers deprived of goods valued at R 1.2 million with the balance taken from Mozambican smugglers.

The UCT’s Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products shows the total lost revenue to National Treasury (NT) over the 2002/2022 period was a staggering R119 billion. The majority of this accrued in 2010/2022 when R110 billion was lost. This, researchers Dr Nicole Vellios and Professor Corné van Walbeek say, is due to the illegal cigarette market which started growing in 2010.

The illicit cigarette market comprised five percent in 2009, peaked at 60% in 2021 and decreased marginally to 58% in 2022, they said in a statement.

Other successes notched up by soldiers in March was the recovery of seemingly stolen livestock worth over R5 million on the South Africa/Lesotho border in the Eastern Cape and Free State, with R60 000 worth of livestock returned to the rightful owners in South Africa after being rustled over the KwaZulu-Natal border.

South Africa’s land borders with Lesotho, along the Free State and Eastern Cape, and Zimbabwe proved the most “popular” with illegal immigrants in March. A hundred and six illegal immigrants were intercepted by soldiers on the Zimbabwe border and handed to police and Department of Home Affairs (DHA) immigration officials. All told soldiers prevented 186 foreigners from illegally accessing South Africa in March.