Sukulwenkosi Dube Plumtree Correspondent
FOUR men suspected to be part of a nine- member smuggling syndicate were arrested at the Plumtree Border Post while trying to smuggle 915 kilogrammes of copper worth $18,300 out of the country.
The men were reportedly bound for South Africa to sell the copper when they were intercepted at the border.
Smugglers have been cashing on the mineral which they have been stealing from electric and phone cables and selling illegally in the neighbouring country at a street value of R55 per kilogramme.
The mineral, which is reportedly in great demand in the neighbouring country, is used for the manufacturing of bullets and coffin handles in South Africa.
The four suspects – Orderly Mpofu, 37, Muzarabani Tapfumaneyi, 38, Mthulisi Dube, 39, and Winston Nkoma, 27, all from Bulawayo, appeared before Plumtree magistrate Gideon Ruvetsa facing charges of dealing in copper without a licence.
Detectives who were manning the exit gate at the border found the copper stashed inside four tyres.
Prosecuting, Jane Phiri told how the four men, who were travelling in a Toyota Hilux truck, were arrested on Thursday evening.
“The four accused persons were intercepted by detectives at the Plumtree border exit gate on their way into Botswana in a South Africa registered vehicle at around 10PM.
“After surrendering their gate pass to the security guards, their vehicle was searched leading to the recovery of 915kgs of copper. Some of the copper rolls were stashed in four spare wheel tyres and other rolls were tied underneath the vehicle chassis,” said Phiri.
She said the detectives then ordered the four men to produce a licence but they had none which resulted in their immediate arrest.
Upon their arrest, the accused persons implicated two other men Fanuel Muzamba and Nelson Mangena whom they alleged to be the suppliers of the copper. They also implicated three other men who are still at large.
The suspects also revealed that they had more copper which was in the possession of their suspected accomplices.
The police are still to ascertain where the copper cables were stolen from.
Ruvetsa remanded the accused persons in custody to September 12 pending further investigations.
Mpofu and Nkoma, however, told the magistrate that they were not part of the smuggling gang.
“I was just given a lift in the car Your Worship since I was also on my way to South Africa but I have no idea about the copper, these other men can also attest to that. Can we be shown what the police have compiled in the docket because our statements have not been recorded,” said Mpofu.
Nkoma also begged to be released after pointing out that he was also a passenger.
Ruvetsa dismissed their appeals indicating that they would come back on the specified date for trial.
Copper cable theft is rife in Zimbabwe with parastatals like Zesa and the National Railways of Zimbabwe often being forced to suspend operations due to the thefts.
Stealing of copper cables has been blamed as one of the factors that derail economic growth.
A number of people have been electrocuted while trying to steal copper from live electricity installations, with the latest being a Bulawayo man who died last week.
In April, Zesa said it lost 30,000km of copper cables valued at nearly $180,000 in the southern region of the country through theft.
Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company, a subsidiary of Zesa, has moved to replace copper cables with aluminum ones as a way of curbing vandalism of its infrastructure in a project that started in January.