A GANG of vehicle smugglers yesterday fled into Zimbabwe from South Africa after a shootout with soldiers who foiled their attempt to take three stolen cars across the Limpopo River.
Border control authorities could not apprehend the smugglers, but recovered three vehicles worth a combined R1,6 million.
The incident occured in the Madimbo area which is adjacent to Tshikwalakwala in Zimbabwe and some 140 km east of Beitbridge Border Post.
In a statement last night, South Africa’s Limpopo provincial army headquarters said they had recovered a Toyota Fortuner, a Toyota Hilux and a Volvo XC60.
The vehicles are worth R430 000, R400 000 and R800 000 respectively.
“South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers were busy with standing patrol in the Madimbo area when they spotted a Toyota Fortuner which was traveling at a very high speed towards an illegal crossing along with the Republic of South Africa/Zimbabwe border.
“Upon trying to intercept the vehicle, the occupants of the vehicle fired shots from what looked like pistols. The soldiers returned fire and the suspects escaped towards the Zimbabwean side of the border,” said SANDF.
According to the statement, the smugglers kept firing at the soldiers in a bid to stop them from recovering the Toyota Fortuner.
The SANDF said the soldiers then called for back up and eventually managed to recover the vehicle but the smugglers escaped from the scene.
The soldiers conducted a mop-up operation around the area and discovered that there were two other vehicles hidden in the bush.
“The vehicles were handed over to the South African Police Services,” said the statement.
The incident comes a few days after seven SANDF members were arrested by the neighbouring country’s elite police, the Hawks for abetting vehicle smuggling activities between 2017 and 2019.
The group would reportedly demand R15 000 per vehicle to facilitate the smuggling.
According to the Hawks, the soldiers would then share the money but were busted following an intelligence operation code-named “Night Vigil’.
The accused include privates Edward Lepokolo (48), Rapula Reuben Maidi (49), Bulelani Danti (30), Peter Thato Nemane (52), Thembani Mjelo(31) and two Lance Corporals, Marks Funeka (49), and Ludwe Gwedashe (44).
The smuggling of vehicles along the Limpopo River is rife and most of the vehicles will be en route to Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania while some will be destined for the Zimbabwean market.