POWERFUL and wealthy cartels are behind the smuggling of marijuana through the country’s expansive and porous border with Mozambique, The Manica Post has established.
Investigations conducted by this publication also revealed that the country is being used as a conduit for marijuana as the bulk of the contraband finds its way to various regional destinations, including Botswana.
These well-funded criminal activities are tacticfully evading law enforcement agents and dishing out bribes to facilitate unhindered passage of the contraband into Zimbabwe.
Although several arrests have been made, with tonnes of marijuana recovered, the police are struggling curb the vice.
Over the past few months, alert police detectives attached to the Drugs and Narcotics Unit have recovered several tonnes of marijuana along Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique.
Marijuana is widely grown by licensed individuals in Malawi and Mozambique at a commercial scale.
Sources privy to the smuggling enterprise revealed that wealthy and influential people are behind the trade of the banned substance.
They said some of the smuggled marijuana is destined for the local market, while the bulk of it finds its way to Botswana.
Officer Commanding Manicaland Police, Commissioner Wiklef Makamache, said the border with Mozambique is extremely porous, hence the rampant illegal cross-border activities.
Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Luxson Chananda said the smuggling of marijuana from Mozambique and Malawi is worrisome.
He said the ZRP has deployed more manpower along the border with Mozambique to curb the illegal enterprise.
“In recent months, we have made more deployments along the border. This has helped us make arrests and recover tonnes of smuggled marijuana.
“The public is helping the police by frequently availing useful information concerning the activities of the smugglers. In areas where smuggling is rampant, we have activated informers to increase coverage. Plain clothes officers are also proving to be useful in trapping these criminals,” he said.
Inspector Chananda said the police require more resources to completely seal off the border line and outwit smugglers who use high terrain vehicles to move the contraband.
A police detective attached to the Drugs and Narcotics Unit said most of the marijuana in the country is coming from Malawi and Mozambique.
“The main source of marijuana is Malawi and Mozambique. Farmers in Malawi grow it on a large scale and they have a ready market in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana. The marijuana is easily transported from Malawi into Mozambique and then smuggled into Zimbabwe enroute to various regional destinations,” said the detective who requested anonymity citing protocol.
He said the smugglers use the various illegal entry points dotted along the border.
“Several illegal entry points are in Chipinge’s Mariya, Muzite and Mahenye. They usually use vans and four wheel-drive trucks to transport the merchandise with escort vehicles, right up to Harare and Bulawayo.
“Several illegal routes have also been opened up in the mountainous Honde Valley, Ruwangwe and Nyamaropa areas. As a result of the thick forests there, some of the marijuana is transported in broad daylight. Communities living near the border line often assist the peddlers with storage facilities at their homesteads for a fee,” he said.
“However, wealthy criminals do not use the bush channels, they bribe their way past the official entry point at Forbes Border Post.
“These are the well connected guys who have the resources to hide the contraband in haulage trucks and at times they place it inside tankers. These guys in Mozambique receive the marijuana from Malawi and hide it in legitimate cargo destined for Zimbabwe via Forbes Border Post.
“Since the marijuana has a strong smell which can easily be detected by sniffer dogs, they place it in thick laminated plastic bags to contain the smell.
“Trucks carrying such contraband are quickly cleared because a lot of money would have exchanged hands between the smuggling syndicate, the clearing agent, law enforcement agents and Zimra officials. It is a well knit syndicate,” he said.
However, some of these schemes do not always work, hence the massive recoveries and arrests.
“Shifts at the border can be changed without notice. The team that would have connived with the smugglers can be shifted to work elsewhere before clearing the contraband. In such cases the new team will do their work diligently to uncover the rot,” said the police officer.
Last year, two trucks ferrying a combined 6,7 tonnes of marijuana were intercepted at Forbes Border Post and in Nyanga.
One of the trucks laden with 4,7 tonnes of marijuana was intercepted along the Nyanga-Nyamapanda Road, while another one carrying two tonnes of the contraband was stopped by alert Zimra officers soon after leaving Forbes Border Post .
The driver of the truck had declared it empty but marijuana was found hidden in a compartment specifically created for smuggling purposes.
As a search was being conducted, the driver bolted from the scene.
Zimra station manager, Mr Langton Chuma, said the busted truck was coming from Malawi.
According to a research paper published by the Institute for Security Studies, the marijuana grown in Malawi is very popular across the world, Zimbabwe included.
According to a UN report, the smuggling of marijuana into Zimbabwe is rampant.
“It is estimated that only 30 percent of the cannabis consumed in the country is supplied by domestic sources. The bulk of the cannabis imported into the country comes from Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa.
“Local farmers disguise the crop by planting it in the midst of maize or tomatoes, or by growing it in forests or along riverbanks,” reads part of the report.
Government gazetted Statutory Instrument 218 of 2020 to regularise the growing, processing and supply of industrial hemp (cannabis) by farmers in Zimbabwe for industrial purposes.
There is a huge difference between marijuana and cannabis as the former is recreational while the latter has a variety of uses that include production of ropes, textiles, clothing, shoes, food, paper, bio-plastics, insulation, bio-fuels and hemp jewellery.
While individuals and enterprises can now be licensed to cultivate cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes, possession of the drug is still illegal for unlicensed dealers.