> Lenin Ndebele
BULAWAYO-SOUTH Africa is the vehicle theft capital of Southern Africa, accounting for 96 percent of all vehicles acquired illegally in the region, according to Interpol.
Between September 2015 and September 2016, South African police investigated 14,600 hijackings – an average 40 per day.
But while South Africa – the regional economic hub – is bearing the brunt of vehicle crime, the crime scene is spread all over the region.
Syndicates are stealing cars – especially Land Rovers and Toyota 4x4s – and within hours, the vehicles would have been driven out of the country for ready markets in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and the DRC.
Last week alone, the Zimbabwe Republic Police intercepted a fleet of high end cars worth around US$400,000 in transit to Zambia and Tanzania.
Two Land Rover Discovery 4’s and three Toyota Fortuners already on the Interpol’s radar were recovered at the Victoria Falls border post being driven by four South Africans – Willem Roets, Burges Clint Joseph, Bongani Bhengu, Gordon Raholane – and Philip Ngorima, a Zimbabwean.
The five, believed to be members of a syndicate, have since appeared in court and were remanded in custody to December 1.
Zimbabwean prosecutors say the men stole the cars, created false registration books and then forged police and export clearance papers which they used to drive the cars through the Beitbridge border post.
The two Discovery 4s were traced back to Johannesburg while the three Fortuners originated from a car showroom in Vryheld.
Car dealers and insurance companies are coy when it comes to revealing which brands are the most targeted by thieves.
DataDot, a South African car tracking company whose technology was securing more than three million cars in 2015, said 60 percent of stolen cars were sold locally while 25 percent find their way to other African countries and only five percent leave the continent.
Ten percent are stolen for spare parts.
“We’re faced with a serious endemic. Most cars that are smuggled out of South Africa are off-road vehicles because Africa’s terrain is generally rough,” said Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, the spokesperson for the South African Police Service in Limpopo province, on the border with Zimbabwe.
It has been reported that the Toyota Fortuner and the Toyota Hilux are a carjacker’s hotcakes. There is an appetite for them across Africa.
Toyota South Africa has been continuously upgrading their security systems, although these upgrades are charged as an extra.
Last year, Interpol swooped on high ranking citizens and business people in Malawi in search of luxury cars stolen from South Africa.
At last month’s SADC summit in Swaziland, member states called for a harmonised car registration system in the region.
“We would want to introduce some features on number plates such that when scanned, the number plate gives all the necessary information,” said Mapule Mokoena of Lesotho, a member of the SADC secretariat’s transport unit.