South African soldiers being offered bribes of up to R20,000 to look the other way by cigarette smugglers is an indication of just how massive the illicit cigarette trade is, a factor highlighted by the Tobacco Institute of South Africa (TISA).
“South Africa has the highest illicit tobacco incidence in sub-Saharan Africa and is listed among the top five illicit markets globally,” TISA chief executive Francois van der Merwe said.
In 2013 an estimated 31% of all cigarettes consumed in South Africa were illicit. This figure dropped to 23% last year.
“In terms of impact on the national fiscus more than R20 billion in tax revenue has been lost since 2010.
“The problem runs far deeper than enormous losses of fiscal income that could have been put to good use to bolster government efforts in education, infrastructure development and poverty alleviation.
“A major issue is the illicit market is closely linked to transnational organised crime syndicates. Those that trade in illicit products, be it cigarettes, alcohol, textiles, DVDs and environmental crimes such as rhino poaching or abalone smuggling are often involved in other serious crimes and even the funding of terrorism and money laundering,” he said.
In South Africa, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is the lead agency in border protection with soldiers deployed also responsible for preventing contraband from entering the country.
That cigarette smugglers are cash flush was shown in two separate incidents involving soldiers deployed on border protection duty.
In the first a section leader was offered a R20,000 bribe by the leader of a “cigarette caravan” his patrol had tracked for 20km from the South Africa/Zimbabwe border. The bribe was not accepted and the soldiers apprehended the group and handed them to police before reporting to their immediate command.
The second incident saw another seven man stick on patrol offered R400 each if they turned a blind eye to a particular group of smugglers each time they saw them. As with the first the bribe was turned down, the smugglers found themselves apprehended and the soldiers’ command was informed of the bribe.
All the soldiers involved will be officially commended for their actions according to Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton of SANDF Joint Operations.