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Ban on Tobacco Sales in SA is Working Out Well for Cigarette Smugglers in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, there’s a legend called “Wella”, who made R4m overnight. People found out about his windfall after a video he posted on social media earlier this month went viral. In it, he’s showing off wads of R200 notes. Last week he was a nobody, he says, but now his wife will drive a R300,000 car. Not that it was earned legally. Wella is said to have made the money by selling 200 boxes of contraband cigarettes in Joburg. That’s 10,000 cartons, or 100,000 packs of 20 cigarettes. With restrictive Covid-19 lockdown measures in place, the border between SA and Zimbabwe closed for all but essential travel, and SA headed into the 18th week of a ban on the sale of tobacco, many hustlers in the border town of Beitbridge are chasing Wella’s record. It’s big business. Last year, the illicit cigarette trade cost SA R8bn in lost revenue, according to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa. But that was before Covid. Africa Check reports that in April — the first full month of lockdown — excise taxes on tobacco sales were down by more than R36m a day compared with April 2019.