Zimbabwe’s rich people have hidden their expensive cars, as they try to evade a nationwide police crackdown that has netted about 70 000 improperly imported and unregistered vehicles, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Police and the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) last month launched an operation code-named Tame the Traffic Jungle to arrest and impound improperly imported and unregistered vehicles.
But in a shocking turn of events, top of the range cars have disappeared from the roads, raising questions of how they landed into the country.
On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) vowed to flush out the cars “hidden” in affluent suburbs.
Cars without number plates and those bearing foreign registrations were targeted since the combined ZRP and Zimra teams launched the operation.
By the time police announced it would extend the operation indefinitely, posh cars had vanished from the streets.
Paul Nyathi, national spokesperson at the ZRP, confirmed this week that state agencies were turning the heat on owners of unregistered and irregularly imported posh cars.
“In our review meeting, we took note of the positives (of the operation). We also took note that we still have a challenge of motorists, who move around with cars without number plates and who do not have licences in terms of the Vehicle Registration and Licencing Act,” he said.
“Action will be taken. We have taken note that there are top of the range vehicles, which have disappeared from the country’s roads for various reasons.
“We have engaged Zimra and other relevant authorities and we are monitoring the situation. We will impound, whether it is a car in the Borrowdale area, in Mount Pleasant or any other suburb in Zimbabwe without registration plates.
“Irrespective of the owner, we will impound the vehicle and make sure that the law takes its course,” Nyathi added.
Borrowdale and Mount Pleasant are some of Harare’s most expensive residential areas.
By Wednesday, 68 020 people had been arrested under the operation, according to ZRP statistics. The data also showed that of these, 21 453 arrests involved pirate taxi owners and 4 881 were netted for touting.
ZRP statistics also showed that 1 406 vehicles have been impounded for operating without number plates.
“Such vehicles will not be released until they complete the required vehicle registration licencing processes. This will also include some car dealers selling vehicles without number plates to their clients. They must comply with the country’s laws,” Nyathi said.
“If the car is smuggled, the law will take its course.”
Zimbabwe’s roads have been flooded with expensive cars, which defies logic given high levels of poverty sweeping across the country.
Official reports indicate that in the past few years, extreme poverty levels have rocked to 49%, but during the same period, there has been a group of people, some politically connected, that have imported very expensive cars. Zimra investigators have uncovered that some of these vehicles were improperly imported, with their owners using powerful connections to evade import duty.
Francis Chimanda, head of corporate communications at Zimra, referred questions to the police.
“The operation is a national one being led by the police and they would be best positioned to provide a comment,” Chimanda said.
Police sources said along with the politically connected people, many socialites and celebrities, whose wealth has been queried, have also hidden their luxury vehicles.
“Luxury vehicles usually flaunted on social media have vanished from the streets. The operation is targeting those claiming to be untouchables. The police top brass believes the struggling citizens are the only ones paying customs duties, while the rich use influence to evade duty,” one top police official said.
This week five men, who allegedly smuggled motor vehicles into Zimbabwe from South Africa by fraudulently fitting registration plates belonging to cars from the President’s Office to evade taxes and toll fees, appeared in court.
According to court documents, on the first count, the accused allegedly smuggled a KIA truck with an obliterated chassis number.
They fitted registration number plate AFB 5566, which belongs to a vehicle of the counter-intelligence unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet to avoid customs duty and not properly register the car.
On the second count, the accused made a deal to swap their Toyota Hilux GD6 for a Toyota Aqua and were paid US$7 000. But the Hilux with chassis number AHTKB8CD602971088 had been smuggled from South Africa.