It is a means to an end; arrests and prosecutions are not deterrent factors. It is a maxim that drives Mkhululi Moyo and three of his colleagues in Plumtree, Matabeleland South, who like their employed age-mates, claim to have found what they call a “permanent” job.
By NQOBANI NDLOVU
The job entails smuggling fuel from neighbouring Botswana for sale in the country.
It is a risky trade; people have lost lives and property after smuggled fuel went up in smoke.
A few months ago, a Plumtree building reportedly housing fuel smuggled from Botswana went up in smoke, also razing several adjacent buildings.
But, lack of formal employment and the need to provide for his family leaves Moyo with no option but to smuggle fuel from Botswana for sale in the country.
“At least we are not stealing from anyone,” Moyo quips, oblivious of the fact that government blames fuel smugglers for loss of revenue in undeclared levies.
Leading global authentication and information services company, Authentix Inc, which assists customers in combating illicit fuel trade, has said Zimbabwe could be losing about $250 million annually to the illegal trade.
However, according to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, smuggled fuel costs the state over $1 billion in undeclared levies.
“There are no jobs; we have long given up on finding any formal employment in this country, let alone in this small town like Plumtree,” said Moyo who was wearing a blue work-suit.
Moyo and his colleagues form part of the several fuel smuggling cartels in the border town.
Some of the smuggled fuel is sold in the streets of Plumtree, while some finds its way to Bulawayo, about 100km away.
During a recent visit to Plumtree, it was revealed that the town council recently issued a warning against the selling of fuel in the streets, but the practice continues.
The council also launched a blitz on black market fuel vendors, but this also failed to stop the trade, as witnessed during a recent visit.
“We are used to the raids, and from what we now know, the blitz does not last for long.
“We just go under during those days when they are conducting the raids, or sell it from car boots. Otherwise, till we have formal jobs, this is our way of life,” said Brighton Nkomo, another fuel dealer.
The fuel dealers said they take advantage of the laxity at both the Zimbabwe and Botswana sides at Maitengwe border to smuggle fuel into the country.
They also pay bribes to immigration officials to smuggle fuel to Zimbabwe.
The Maitengwe border route, which has less activity, is the fuel dealers’ preferred entry point as they shun the “busy” Plumtree border post where the risk of arrest is high.
An investigation showed that fuel dealers gain entry into Botswana through Maitengwe border post in Plumtree and then go via villages such as Matangwana, Selina, Tutume, Sinke and Nkanke in the neighbouring country until they reach Francistown where they purchase the fuel, and use the same route back to Zimbabwe to evade arrest.
A litre of diesel costs an equivalent of 0,63 cents while petrol costs 0,73 in neighbouring Botswana.
This actually gives smugglers a massive profit where the fuel is sold at betwen $1,20 to $1,30 per littre in Zimbabwe.
“The fuel is moved in large quantities from Francistown to Matangwana (where it is stored) and then transported in batches of at least 800 litres a day using 20 litre gallons through undesignated points in Zimbabwe.
“In a week, each dealer has a target of 4 000 litres which is sold through gallons in Plumtree town, or in Bulawayo,” said Ndumiso Nyoni, another fuel smuggler.
From Plumtree town, the fuel smugglers travel at night to Bulawayo when roadblocks are few to avoid arrest. Some of the fuel finds its way to mainstream garages in the city centre.
In Bulawayo, the city council conducts raids against illegal fuel traders, but the practice continues.
In fact, there are suburbs, and streets in the central business district where one can purchase fuel from street traders.
Local commentators said eradicating fuel smuggling would remain a “pie in the sky” unless government delivers on its job promises.
“It’s a jungle. Zimbabwe has been turned to a jungle, and these youths should be understood.
“That is what happens when the government betrays its people and fails to deliver on its job promises” said Ronald Moyo, chairperson of a local pressure group.
“Most of those youths have done everything in their power to acquire an education, but opportunities are not coming their way.
“I think the solution is to give them what belongs to them, something which I cannot see the Zanu PF government which is preoccupied with its factional wars, addressing anytime soon.
“The youths should take this as a lesson; they should now step up and take over power from the old politicians who have been failing us for some decades.”
Mlungisi Dube weighed in: “It is sad to note that the government has failed to deliver on its 2013 2,2 million jobs promises.
“While employment opportunities are scarce throughout the country, the hardest hit has been local people from these border areas namely Beitbridge and Plumtree who now resort to fuel smuggling to survive.”
In July 2016, Home Affairs deputy minister, Obedingwa Mguni intercepted a truck that was reportedly transporting more than 2 000 litres of smuggled fuel into the country along the Bulawayo-Plumtree Highway in the early morning hours.
In April last year, Zimbabwe and the Botswana Defence Forces officials also launched a joint operation to curb the smuggling of fuel from the neighbouring country, but unregistered fuel dealers still manage to evade arrest.
For Moyo, a fuel smuggler, the incentive to continue illegal fuel trafficking is the profit they make.
“We are making a profit. In fact, the profit we make is worth the risk. Life goes on, and as for the risk associated with this, we will always find a way,” Moyo said on a parting note.