Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: GCIS
Police minister Bheki Cele. Picture: GCIS

Police minister Bheki Cele has acknowledged that crime syndicates have taken advantage of the sales ban on alcohol and tobacco during the coronavirus lockdown. 

The lockdown is one of the strictest in the world and has implemented a controversial wholesale ban on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, which has pushed trade underground. 

Cele said that since the beginning of the lockdown there has been almost 230,000 contraventions of its regulations. They include cigarette- and liquor-related offences, as well as illegal gatherings and trave between provinces with no permits or with fraudulent ones.

He said provinces with the highest number of arrests for contravention of the regulations almost mirror the provincial infection rates, with the Western Cape in the lead, followed by Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

Cele said that, while dealing with the increase in illicit activities, it is known that criminals are opportunistic. “Organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown and have expanded their illegal trade into illicit and counterfeit alcohol and cigarette sales,” Cele said.

He said the police have observed an increase in smuggling of contraband liquor and tobacco, between SA’s land borders with Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as the sale of these products on the black market.

He said the SA National Defence Force has disrupted some of these illegal operations along SA’s borders, mainly those with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Contraband, including alcohol and cigarettes, worth about R1m in March, and R1.6m in April, has been confiscated, Cele said. 

He did not give an indication as to how big the increase has been in illegal sales and said it should be remembered that the illicit trade of cigarettes is not new. 

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