Popular media personality Ezra Tshisa Sibanda recently revealed that Zimbabweans based in South Africa are involved in illicit smuggling of bodies of their loved ones back to Zimbabwe for burial back home.
According to Sibanda, soldiers guarding the Limpopo River boundary with South Africa were being bribed to let the bodies and hosts of other smuggled goods through the busy illegal crossing points.
Several ZimEye.com readers however thought that the act was impossible as the formal border process was clearing bodies without hurdles.
However, it has since emerged that the process to bring in bodies through the border is not as easy as perceived leaving some to smuggle the bodies through illegal crossing points.
Under the new orders, all bodies being brought repatriated to Zimbabwe for burial are being treated as contagious except in cases where the cause of death is a road accident, murder or other body injuries.
In addition, all remains now require the clearance of the Ministry of Health and Child Care prior to their transportation to Zimbabwe under the usual procedures.
Relatives accompanying the remains are now being subjected to mandatory quarantine at any port of entry upon arrival in the country before proceeding to the various destinations.
Following reports of the smuggling, Beitbridge police have arrested 35 people carrying an assortment of goods worth thousands of dollars, which they had smuggled into the country through an illegal crossing point located less than a kilometre from the main port of entry.
No reports of bodies being brought through were however made by the police.
The suspects who have since been charged with smuggling, were carrying electrical gadgets including fridges, 275 litres of petrol, groceries and drums.
The value of the goods is yet to be ascertained.
The police officer commanding Beitbridge, Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo confirmed the arrests to State Media.
“I can confirm that we arrested 35 people on Monday evening at the spill way near the Old Limpopo River.
“These were carrying an assortment of goods they had smuggled from South Africa. The goods have been taken to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority for value and import duty calculations,” he said.
The official said deployments had been made to ensure that criminal activities were dealt with accordingly along the river.
Zimbabwean and South African security has since the start of the lockdown in April been intensifying patrols to minimise the illegal movement of both people and goods.
This is also done to reduce the rate of the spread of Covid-19 in the two neighbouring countries.
The South Africans are intercepting mainly cigarettes, while Zimbabwean authorities are arresting people with an assortment groceries and electrical gadgets.
Presently the border is closed to non-essential human traffic and the development has led to an upsurge in smuggling and border jumping.
Last week, security officials in Beitbridge intercepted six people who had smuggled goods worth R1, 3 million and attracting an estimated import duty of $4 million.
The suspects had declared that they were shipping maize meal and diapers but it turned out they were transporting groceries from South Africa to Harare.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority’s (ZIMRA) regional manager for Beitbridge, Mr Innocent Chikuni recently told the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube that they had intercepted 21 commercial trucks smuggling into the country an assortment goods worth millions of dollars.
“Working with other stakeholders we have been able to seize goods from 56 offenders and impounded 22 motor vehicles between April and May at undesignated entry points along the Limpopo River,” said Mr Chikuni.
“In addition, smuggling activities through the border post are surging because of the increased traffic. Between March and May we recorded 81 seizures including 21 commercial trucks & trailers.
“We are now looking at increased automation of most processes and concentration of staff to control of high-risk cargo to minimise smuggling through the main port of entry. On the river front, we believe that if we deploy more human and material resources to man or patrol the undesignated entry points, we can make head way. However, accommodation shortages are our greatest undoing as we wish to have more hands on the ground.”