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The small South African village where illegal car smugglers rule

When the sun sets, the small village of Dludluma in Mpumalanga is overrun by car smugglers who are taking stolen vehicles across the border into neighbouring Mozambique.

It has reached the point where the border fence that separates the two countries has been cut by criminals at every 10-metre section to make it easier to take stolen cars across without detection.

“This is a small village but smuggled cars pass here a lot, counterfeit cigarettes pass here, trafficked people also pass here,” a village inhabitant told SABC News. “When we talk about cars, you can’t even count them.”

The residents said that they don’t feel safe in their own homes anymore as the criminals are “all over the place.” They also recruit younger villagers to work for them as prospects for employment are few and far in between in Dludluma, and the smugglers have plenty of money.

“We’re suffering, mainly because we have illegal foreigners here who are leading this thing. They keep on recruiting people within the village because they have money and obviously people like the idea of getting money even through illegal means,” said another Dludluma resident.

“It’s a big issue, nightlife becomes a problem, you know, there are young people who go out at night and then you’d see a lot of cars passing here [on their way to cross the border].”

Dludluma village in view of Mozambique border.

SAPS on the prowl

Mpumalanga SAPS spokesperson Donald Mdhluli said the authorities have already recovered 30 stolen vehicles in the area since the start of 2024. Most of these vehicles hail from Gauteng as well as from Mpumalanga.

Mdhluli said the suspicion is that the smugglers are part of a sizeable syndicate, as those individuals who are responsible for taking the stolen cars across the border are usually not the same ones who originally took them from their rightful owners.

“Before they can take [the vehicles] to nearby countries, they will hide them somewhere, and our investigation has realised that it looks like a syndicate, where others that didn’t hijack the vehicle would then take them across the border,” he said.

At least 13 suspects have been arrested by the SAPS and are expected to appear in court shortly, and three of them have been identified as illegal foreign nationals from Mozambique.

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