Cele: Illicit cigarettes, alcohol existed long before the lockdown

Pricey alcohol and cigarettes are flying off the underground shelves amid the national lockdown. (Moeketsi Mamane/The Witness)
Pricey alcohol and cigarettes are flying off the underground shelves amid the national lockdown. (Moeketsi Mamane/The Witness)

Police Minister Bheki Cele has said while organised crime syndicates have taken advantage of the lockdown regulations by illegally selling alcohol and cigarettes, the illicit trade existed long before measures were taken to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Cele, who was briefing the media of Friday, said almost 230 000 people have been charged for contravening lockdown regulations since they were enforced on 26 March.

These contraventions included liquor and tobacco-related offences as well as illegal gatherings and the failure to confine to places of residence.

READ | Dlamini-Zuma pushes for tobacco, alcohol ban to continue until Level 1

Speaking about the illicit liquor and tobacco trade, Cele said criminals were opportunistic and as a result have expanded their illegal trade to include counterfeit alcohol and cigarettes.

This had also been evidenced in the increase of liquor and tobacco smuggling between South Africa, Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, he added.

"Our lockdown partners, the South African National Defence Force, have disrupted some of these illegal operations mainly along South Africa's borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe; and confiscated contraband including alcohol and cigarettes worth about R1.07 million in March and R1.6 million in April."

Size

Cele said he could not quantify how big the illicit market had become since the sale of tobacco and alcohol was banned.

"Nobody has really given us the measurements of how huge the thing [the increase of the black-market sale of liquor and alcohol] is, yes we confirm that they are illicit. That's why there has been a big number of people that were arrested on that [liquor- and tobacco-related offences]."

"There are thousands, could be even millions of litres [of alcohol] that has been confiscated."

However, Cele added the black market for cigarettes had existed before the lockdown was implemented.

"Cigarettes illicit trading did not start during Covid-19 activities, it has been the problem of South Africa all the time, both the industry and the police [have been fighting the illicit trade]. So, it should not come as if the illicit cigarettes have come out because there is Covid-19."

He said the fight against black market liquor also predated the lockdown, adding people have attempted to smuggle alcohol in the country long before the pandemic. 

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