MASERU – The Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) has issued a strong warning to illicit tobacco smugglers operating between Lesotho and South Africa, particularly during the current COVID-19 emergency in both countries. This follows a series of reports of smuggling activities between Lesotho and South Africa, with LMPS spokesperson, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, announcing this week that South African nationals crossed the border illegally into Lesotho to buy tobacco products.
In light of COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa the sale of tobacco products is prohibited, while Lesotho still allows the sale and consumption of cigarettes and all other tobacco. Mopeli said most smuggling transactions are set up through social media, where locals advertise the sale of tobacco and South African buyers are enticed to cross the border for purchases. “This is illegal and risky because the dealers oftentimes fail to deliver on promises made on social media, resulting in fights that end up with all concerned parties getting maimed. “Unfortunately, these incidents end up not even being reported to the police because of their illegality,” Mopeli said.
Moreover, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the South African government banned the sale of tobacco because there were concerns that smoking could promote or aggravate coronavirus infection. According to Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, there are South African citizens crossing illegally to buy tobacco in Lesotho. Police cautioned Basotho living around the border town, especially Maputsoe, to report any suspicious activity they may witness, adding that such interaction between citizens of the two countries was also bound to put those involved in danger of COVID-19 infection.
At the beginning of the month a police officer patrolling the area along the Tele Bridge in Quthing, found several boxes of cigarettes and alcohol, seemingly abandoned by a smuggler; two other individuals were arrested the same day in possession of dagga valued at M39 000 – also along the border. Cigarettes valued at M70 000 were also seized in May in the same area.
This is in sharp contrast to reports, in the beginning of the year, of a hike in Lesotho of vendors selling brands ranging from RG, Sun, Blessing and Sahawi in large quantities in most towns around the country. The cigarettes were reportedly illicitly coming from South Africa to be sold in Lesotho – posing a serious problem for law enforcement in the country.