Govt blocks shady SA tycoon from upgrading border posts

CABINET has rejected a proposal to give convicted fraudster and South African businessman Niko Shefer, the task of refurbishing, upgrading and computerising the country’s border posts amid reports that government fears massive smuggling of goods and revenue loses.

Wongai Zhangazha

Zimbabwe has 15 border posts, with the Beitbridge post being the busiest as it handles more than 3 500 vehicles and 9 000 people daily during off peak periods.

The majority of the country’s borders are porous, while travellers face numerous challenges, including delays in the clearance of both human and commercial traffic due to shortage of resources and use of outdated equipment among other things.

Sources in government said cabinet recently threw out a proposal by Shefer to upgrade the country’s borders to international standards and instead recommended that government takes over the refurbishment of the border posts.
Government fears that allowing an individual to control the borders could lead to massive smuggling and security breaches.

“A cabinet committee chaired by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa rejected the proposal for security and economic reasons. Government felt that an individual should not be given control over all the countries borders. The fear is that this could possibly give Shefer so much power and also result in the borders becoming more porous,” said an official.

The source said the proposal to work with Shefer, often described by South African media as a “shady businessperson”, sparked controversy as many felt the move would compromise the country’s security.

Shefer is not new to controversy. In March he was sucked into a US$3 million fuel scam in which a local oil company accused a British Virgin Islands-domiciled firm of fraudulently selling its four million litres of diesel worth US$2,6 million and pocketing the money.

The deal also dragged in First Lady Grace Mugabe’s son Russell Goreraza and Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi’s son Simukai.

Efforts to get a comment from Shefer — who has delved in murky mining activities in Democratic republic of Congo and Liberia — were fruitless as his secretary said he was in a meetings.

His secretary also said it would be difficult to contact Shefer as he was travelling outside South Africa.