Border Control of Mineral Flows in Zimbabwe: An Analysis of the Legislation, Institutions and Border Control Practices and Systems

Where is Zimbabwe getting it wrong?

The mining sector has emerged as a key economic sector that plays a critical role in the development of the country. It brings in foreign currency which is vital in financing key public expenditures such as infrastructure development. Since 2009, the sector has become the fastest growing and in 2015 it exhibited stronger growth of above 3.5% largely driven by significant increases in the production of gold, platinum, coal and chrome. In 2021, the mining sector is projected to register growth of 11% and it will be one of the key sectors to drive the estimated economic growth of 7.4% (GoZ, 2020).

The above statistics indicate that there is great potential for the mining sector to drive economic growth and development in Zimbabwe. However, the contribution of mining sector to central government revenues and socio-economic welfare of the citizens remains contested (Mlambo, 2016; ZEPARU, 2018). As a result, Zimbabwe is argued to be suffering the proverbial “mineral resource curse”. Some reasons have been put forward, including corruption, non-transparency, weak legal and institutional frameworks, porous and weak points on entry (border) controls that facilitate rampant smuggling, illicit financial flows, transfer pricing and trade mis-invoicing.

Zimbabwe borders Mozambique from the East, Botswana from the West, Zambia from the North and South Africa from the South. Zimbabwe has;

  • 15 land borders
  • Three international airports
  • More than 30 undesignated crossing points along its borderlines.
  • Illegal routes of entry and exit still exist along Zimbabwe’s borderlines.
  • Unmanned private airstrips and other airports not always manned by customs and immigration (Beitbridge Airport, Buffalo Range Airport, Charles Prince Airport, Kariba Airport, and Mutare Airport) also exist.

Although laws, policies, institutions, and border controls and practices are in place, a plethora of weaknesses inherent in the legal instruments, institutions and border controls undermine the regulation of the mining sector in Zimbabwe thereby encouraging smuggling of minerals, mining revenue leakages and illicit financial flows. They do not promote good governance, transparency, and accountability in the mining sector.

Strengths in border control systems and practices

According to the study, strengths were identified in the current border control systems and practices in curbing smuggling and leakages in minerals. These include the following:

Automated System (ASYCUDA World)

The processing of all exports and imports in the ASYCUDA World system is helping to reduce human interactions thereby reducing collusion of clearing agents and individual importers.

Cargo and Baggage scanners

ZIMRA purchased scanners in 2009 to ease clearances and curb smuggling. Although there is a significant shortage of scanners at most border posts, as also noted by Parliament of Zimbabwe (2018), the available scanners have been able to assist in detecting contraband and or undeclared goods thereby deterring smuggling.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTVs) and Cameras

The installation of CCTVs and cameras at two of the busiest border posts (Beitbridge and Forbes Border Posts) has helped in curbing illegal and illicit activities at the borders including smuggling activities. There is need to install these CCTVs and cameras at all border posts to help in detecting smuggling goods (including minerals) in and out of the country.

Physical checking of documents at point of exit or entry

Weaknesses in the border control systems and practices

Several weaknesses were identified in the border control systems and practices that may be facilitating the smuggling and leakages of minerals. These include:

Limited and Malfunctioning scanners

There is significant shortage of scanners (cargo and baggage) at border posts. The few ones that are there at some border posts in most cases will be malfunctioning, and in some cases, Customs Officers use their discretion on what cargo or baggage to scan. Due to the shortage and malfunctioning of scanners, Customs Officers resort to physical searches of baggage which is laborious and ineffective (Munyanyi, 2019). The shortage of scanners to detect the exact quantities and nature of the goods presents an opportunity to smugglers to conceal high value goods such as diamonds and gold.

Porous border posts

Illegal routes of entry still exist, thus creating opportunities for smugglers to freely move their goods. This concurs with the observation by the Parliament of Zimbabwe (2018) that revealed that smuggling was rampant at Forbes Border Post. At this border post, smugglers in day light follow animal tracks in the landmine fields making it difficult for customs and border authorities to enforce compliance. This is also a threat to security at the border. The same situation is what is witnessed at Nyamapanda Border Post, which is also surrounded with active landmine fields. In September 2020, the Minister of Home Affairs alluded that the country is losing an estimated US$100 million worth of gold every month due to rampant smuggling through the country’s porous points of entry (, 2020).

Poor surveillance and uncontrolled access to the customs areas

Travellers can enter and leave the border without proper clearances (searches and declarations). For instance, small-scale traders the majority who stay within the borderland can pass through the border several times without adhering to customs and immigration procedures. In other instances, some can use the entry gate of the border to exit in the presence of customs, immigration and police who are manning the gate. This usually happens at the busiest and congested border posts such as Beitbridge and Forbes Border Posts making the surveillance process extremely difficult in the absence of state-of-the-art technology. Without or with poor surveillance smuggling flourishes.

Limited border territory security

The border territory has limited cameras and there are no drones to provide the full view and extent of illegal activities. Most borders do not have adequate security at the border itself and along the borderlines. Perimeter fences are not in place. Where they exist, they are dilapidated and compromising border territory security. Physical barriers at the border such as boom gates are non-existent or malfunctioning making the control of traffic difficult. To this regard, Parliament of Zimbabwe (2018) revealed smugglers as the culprits for vandalising barriers at the border posts to clear way for their easy passage when carrying contraband.

Package size of some consignments

The package size of some consignments makes it difficult for border officials to detect the contraband. For instance, gold and diamond are “low weight, high value” minerals that can be put in the pocket or handbag making it difficult for officials to tell if someone is carrying such minerals especially in the absence of scanners. The case of the arrest of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation (ZMF) President at the Robert Mugabe International Airport while trying to board plane with 6kgs of gold in a handbag, (2020), clearly brings out this challenge.

Collusion among border officials and smugglers

Different border officials may collude among themselves and with smugglers to facilitate the smuggling of goods including minerals. At most, border posts, officials are paid regular “pay-outs” and bribes to facilitate smuggling and shield the smugglers from prosecution.

Complexity of today’s smugglers

Modern day smugglers are sophisticated and are far ahead the controls of border officials. They employ a wide range of smuggling techniques that include the backyard modification of the means of conveyance to hide contraband and the forging of export or import documents, which the mere physical document check by border officials may fail to unearth.

Disbanding of the Minerals and Border Control Unit (MBCU)

The Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Minerals and Border Control Unit [MBCU] was established to curtail leakages of minerals and other natural resources as well as enforce laws that protect public infrastructure and utilities in the country. It used to mann all ports of entry and exit. Unfortunately, the MBCU was disbanded in 2018 as the government descended on a criminal syndicate involving magistrates, prosecutors, police officers and immigration officers who systematically conducted corrupt activities including smuggling the country’s resources (Chronicle, 2018). The disbanding of the MBCU was a welcome move but has also exacerbated smuggling especially of gold and diamond.

Gaps in Airports Security

The greatest challenge in airports relate to cargo and the screening of passengers. Air cargo is complicated, and screening it gives rise to complicated issues of logistics, costs and space. The other challenge is screening passengers and their carry-on luggage for minerals and other contraband. Usually “low weight, high value” minerals are hard to detect with the existing mechanisms. Making the situation worse is that smugglers smuggle with the assistance of security forces and border officials at both airports land borders. The case of the Zimbabwean traveller caught with 23 pieces of gold at OR Tambo International Airport in South Africa speaks to this.

Source: Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

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