MASERU – Basotho can now drive freely on South African roads after the Bloemfontein High Court ruled against South African Revenue Service (SARS) for impounding Lesotho-registered import vehicles. Before this judgement, South African authorities habitually impounded foreign registered vehicles, most of them from Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and eSwatini. Most of the impounded cars were cheap imported second-hand vehicles, mostly from Japan.
This was triggered by concerns that many South Africans bought these cars from neighbouring countries and left them with their registrations to avoid paying Value-Added Tax (VAT) to SARS. South Africa’s traffic authorities said they had noticed that most of these vehicles were not roadworthy, causing a high number of road accidents. South Africans can only import a second-hand vehicle into their country if they have been granted a permit to do so. The importation of used vehicles in South Africa is restricted to protect the local motor vehicle manufacturing industry. Permits are only issued under specifically defined circumstances.
Mainly returning South African nationals and immigrants who have permanent residence are permitted to bring vehicles registered in their names into the country. According to South Africa’s Money Web, Joaquim Alves, a South African citizen, was arrested and locked up for a weekend in May 2019 when his Lesotho-registered vehicle, which was being driven by a friend, was seized by customs officials in the eastern Free State town of Ficksburg. Alves reportedly had businesses on both sides of the Lesotho border, and the vehicle was used to travel to and fro across the border several times a week.
He argued in vain with SARS customs officials that they had misread the law in seizing his vehicle. He then “unlawfully” retrieved his vehicle from the Ficksburg municipal compound. Shortly thereafter, the police came and arrested him on charges of theft. The following Monday the local magistrate ordered that Alves be released and the matter was postponed to a later date. The charges of theft were then dropped and the magistrate ordered that the vehicle be returned to Alves’s possession.
However, this did not happen. When SARS refused to return the vehicle, Alves took it and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to the high court in Bloemfontein and won his case. SARS hung on to the vehicle while appealing the case. Last week SARS’s appeal was blown out of court and it was ordered to pay the legal costs. SARS has yet to indicate whether it plans to lodge an appeal with the higher court, but Alves says he will be ready for it if and when it does.
“What this means is that anyone with a vehicle registered in any Southern African Customs Union (SACU) country is free to drive that vehicle in South Africa without hindrance,” said Mkhosi Radebe of MC Radebe Attorneys in Pretoria, which is representing Alves in the case. “My instructions are to take this, if necessary, to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court to confirm what the Bloemfontein High Court has ruled.