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X-border trade: ‘Bribe’ Bridge – Corruption flourishes

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Cross-border trade with Zimbabwe has come under the spotlight with allegations of large-scale corruption involving officials on the South African side of the boundary line reportedly clamping down on volatile victims battling to survive as economic refugees.
A Limpopo trader approached Polokwane Observer with information on an alarming situation that seemingly proves to be the law of the land at Beit Bridge border post where corruption is allegedly daily claiming its targets.
He provided a report obtained from a Zimbabwean national supplying jugo beans which he imported into South Africa by bus in the beginning of the month, claiming that he had to pay US$200 in bribe money to an official this side of the border on 4 January while still paying R897,53 in excise duties for an allowed 910 kg of the agricultural produce. He said the other half of the man’s consignment had remained at the border post and still had to be collected, before he intended making a case with the Police.
In the concise report the Zimbabwean national stated that he was initially informed that he was supposed to pay R10 per kg of beans upon his consignment having been weighed at the border post, totalling R18 000. When he had indicated that the amount was out of his reach and an official enquired how much he had available he produced R1 000 and an additional US$200, whereafter the man said he could make a plan for him to pass with 910 kg of beans, he further mentioned. With the report he produced proof of payment by SARS travellers declaration for R897,53 for perishable goods and foodstuff. The trader, with his business concern some 2 and a half hours from the Zimbabwean border, explained that the foreigner was one of his regular suppliers who provided the beans on demand.
In a follow-up interview the wholesaler informed Polokwane Observer on Tuesday that earlier that day he had received 5,6 tons of beans from a reliable Zimbabwean supplier, with whom he had done business the past 13 years, informing him that he had slipped across the border without paying excise duties. The truck driver collected beans from small scale Zimbabwean farmers en route from Bulawayo and Masvingo to make up an order of anything between 5 to 8 tons of beans to be taken across the border at a time in terms of his pre-order, the source said. After delivering to him the supplier at times also took part of his load to Mpumalanga, he added.
According to the merchant the vulnerable victims were pre-identified for paying bribes while the old hands knew their way around. He stipulated that foreign truck drivers avoiding the fees on South African territory stuck to the back routes. The produce arrived in the country by any means of land transport and on one occasion he had witnessed 3 tons of beans being unpacked from a taxi delivering to his business, he said.
He stressed blatant corruption on the side of suspect officials who claimed more in bribe money at a time than what the traders could get for the product delivered at R9 per kg. The source said he was informed that until three months ago the rate for import on such produce claimed by officials at Beit Bridge border post was R1 per kg while it has now shot up to R10 per kg of produce. He expressed the opinion that perceived corruption contributed to it not being viable for already struggling suppliers to deliver produce at that rate and under such circumstances.
Upon enquiry the SARS media division said if dried leguminous vegetables, shelled, whether or not skinned or split are imported into South Africa in terms of the SADC Protocol there were no customs or excise duties applicable on the said vegetables.
A Polokwane resident outlined the ease with which undocumented Zimbabwean nationals cross the border for as little as R200 paid to truck drivers getting them across the border in the cabs of their heavy vehicles by sharing information obtained from a casual labourer in his employ.

Story: YOLANDE NEL
>>observer.yolande@gmail.com