ZIMBABWE should strengthen its minerals regulatory framework and ensure tighter border controls to plug gold smuggling. This worsening crisis is costing the country billions annually as the criminal syndicates continue hitting headlines, analysts say.
This week, a 33-year-old gold smuggler was nabbed at OR Tambo International Airport in South Africa, trying to smuggle 23 pieces of gold worth R11 million (US$782 000).
Tashinga Nyasha Masinire, an ex-driver and aide of controversial gold dealer Henrietta Rushwaya, was released on bail after appearing before a Johannesburg court facing charges of smuggling, months after his former boss tried to smuggle out 6kgs of gold.
Rushwaya, president of the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation (ZMF), is currently before the courts on similar charges.
An in-your-face figure who also left a trail of controversy from her days as chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Football Association, Rushwaya, who is related to President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has cosy relations with top government officials.
While smuggling has become a growing cancer in Zimbabwe, bleeding billions in potential revenue, it is baffling how huge amounts of the precious metal are being moved through the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.
It is apparent someone is either sleeping on duty, or there are officials working in cahoots with criminal gangs to siphone large amounts of gold out of the country.
Thanks to the South African crime-fighting unit, the Hawks, Masinire was caught and is currently before the courts. But how many smugglers have gone undetected at these ports of entry?
While it remains a mystery how Masinire smuggled a large quantity of gold through the airport, it is clear the bullion heist was carefully planned.
If the Hawks had not intercepted Masinire’s contraband, Zimbabwe would have lost US$782 000 worth of gold.
The same may not be said for the authorities in Zimbabwe, who only get energised when trampling on the rights of political opponents.
When The NewsHawks reported on the 6kg gold smuggling scandal in November, investigations pointed to organised smuggling, where security cameras and detectors at the airport were switched off to ensure Rushwaya’s safe passage with the contraband.
A security official attached to Mnangagwa’s security team assisted Rushwaya to circumvent security.
After being cornered, Rushwaya frantically tried to call the First Lady, Auxillia Mnangagwa, who was unreachable. One of the suspects arrested in connection with the smuggling, Gift Karanda, said the gold belonged to the First Lady and her son Collins.
However, Auxilia distanced herself from the failed gold heist challenging police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga to investigate and clear her family’s name.
President Mnangagwa’s family has often been implicated in gold rackets, bringing to question his willingness to deal with smuggling, illicit financial flows and corruption.
Court documents show Rushwaya was allegedly assisted by a member of Mnangagwa’s close security, Stephen Chenjerai Tserayi (45) and a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operative based at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Raphios Mufandauya as well as Gift Karanda, from Rushwaya’s ZMF.
The involvement of Tserayi in the scandal, first broken by The NewsHawks, also brought the spotlight on Mnangagwa as he worked at the heart of state security.
Zimbabweans were alarmed that security details, who are mandated to keep the country’s ports safe, most importantly intercepting illegal contraband, have become part of the criminal syndicate robbing Zimbabwe billions annually.
By conniving with criminals, security officials are sabotaging Zimbabwe’s economic interests at a time the country is struggling to even afford clean water and healthcare.
Also saddening is the pace at which the authorities deal with smuggling cases at court.
To add to the lethargy in prosecuting offenders, the cases normally drag for months and sometimes years as impunity continues to reign.
A common thread running through most of these smuggling cases is protection from either the presidium or top government officials.
This promotes impunity for offenders, who often walk away scot free to enjoy the fruits of their loot or are given a light sentence which is not deterrent.
Mnangagwa, a self-proclaimed sworn enemy of corruption during his early days as Zimbabwe’s leader, has somewhat failed to tackle this social cancer head-on.
If there is any grain of truth in the allegation that Mnangagwa has become one of the country’s gold magnates, owning many mining concessions, the fight against gold smuggling is near-impossible to win.
It is incumbent upon the Zimbabwean authorities to show political will in dealing with smuggling.
“Enforcement of existing laws should be strengthened and complied with,” said mining executive Issac Kwesu. “It is a sensitive issue, but our laws are clear and need to be reinforced, especially in the gold sector.”
According to the International Crisis Group, Zimbabwe loses US$1.5 billion to gold smuggling every year.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube is on record as saying the country lost 30 to 34 tonnes of gold in 2019.
The country’s bullion is often smuggled to Dubai, a prime destination for most buyers.
Smuggling also flourishes under Zimbabwean law which forcea gold suppliers to sell the precious metal to Fidelity Printers, where they get paid 70% in foreign currency.
Part of the problem is that payments to small-scale miners are “considerably lower” than the spot price of gold, pushing them to look for more lucrative markets.
However, political analyst Stephen Chan said nothing can be done to deal with smuggling in Zimbabwe.
“Without doubt, however, in Zimbabwe there is collusion between the smugglers and their patrons in high places,” Chan remarked.
“Nothing can be done to stop this unless those responsible at the top are brought to justice and dealt with in an exemplary fashion. There is, however, at this stage little chance of that happening. Smuggling has long existed in Zimbabwe. Diamonds were smuggled before gold. It is also common in many other African countries. For instance, parts of endangered animals are smuggled to China for folk medicines from places like Kenya. Ivory was for a long time an illicit trade.”
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