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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Going nowhere slowly: Notorious hijacker, cross-border vehicle smuggler sentenced

Sipho 'Smirnoff' Mhlanga was linked to a cross-border crime syndicate smuggling stolen vehicles from KwaZulu-Natal to Mozambique.

The successful conviction of wanted cross-border vehicle hijacker and smuggler Sipho “Smirnoff” Mhlanga this week, has been hailed as a victory for a national task team deployed to the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Following his arrest in August 2023, Mhlanga was sentenced to 53 years behind bars in the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court.

Mhlanga was linked to a syndicate that had been smuggling hijacked and stolen vehicles from South Africa to Mozambique through various borders in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mhlanga had been in custody since his arrest and was found guilty on Wednesday, 19 June for 10 counts of charges, including murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

In June 2023, Mhlanga’s accomplice , Vusi Amos Malwane, was sentenced to 55 years imprisonment by the Ingwavuma Magistrate’s Court.

KZN border a hotspot for cross-border smugglers

The smuggling of hijacked and stolen vehicles across the South African border to Mozambique has escalated to alarming levels with KwaZulu-Natal being one of the hotspots for cross-border criminal activities.

According to Defence Web, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government resumed the construction of a concrete barrier wall along the South Africa/Mozambique border in March this year to curb vehicle theft and the movement of illicit goods.

A failed attempt to drive a stolen SUV over the barrier using “iron ladders”, serves as evidence that the barrier is already a thorn in the side of crime syndicates.

It appears the ladders buckled, causing criminals to set the vehicle on fire to destroy any evidence.

The burnt-out SUV found at the border wall between KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. Picture: Supplied/ Saps

To date, the national task team which was deployed in February 2023 to Emanguzi, has arrested 276 suspects with 107 still in police custody.

A total of 150 vehicles that were either stolen or hijacked have been recovered, with the majority of those recovered being 4 x 4 vehicles. During this period 93 SUVs and or 4×4 vehicles and 57 sedans were recovered.

Of the recovered vehicles, 135 have been handed over to their lawful owners.

More than 70 illegal and unlicensed firearms, including 14 rifles, have also been confiscated.

Joint action plan: Clamp-down on Mozambique cross-border crime

According to national police spokesperson, Brigadier Athlenda Mathe, there is a joint action plan in place between the Mozambique police and the South African Police Service (Saps) which is aimed at addressing transnational crime in both countries.

The joint action plan aims to ensure a dedicated team from both countries meet on a regular basis to conduct cross-border operations with the aim of preventing and combating vehicle smuggling, kidnappings and stock theft.

NOW READ: Gone in 60 minutes: Hijackers strip Toyota Hilux…with owner ‘attached’

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