Notorious smuggler receives 53-year sentence in South Africa

Sipho ‘Smirnoff’ Mhlanga was handed a 53-year prison sentence by the Mtubatuba Magistrates Court this week. His conviction followed his arrest in August 2023, connecting him to a syndicate responsible for smuggling hijacked vehicles between South Africa and Mozambique.

Crackdown on cross-border smuggling crime

Mhlanga, 37, was part of an extensive criminal network operating across various borders in KwaZulu-Natal. He remained in custody since his arrest and was found guilty on 19 June of 10 charges, including murder, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping.

National police spokesperson Athlenda Mathe highlighted the national task team’s efforts, saying, “A national task team deployed to the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal to clamp down on cross border criminality has once again ensured the successful conviction of another wanted cross-border vehicle hijacker and smuggler.”

The crackdown, initiated in February 2023, resulted in the arrest of 276 suspects, with 107 still in police custody. The task team has also recovered 150 vehicles, predominantly 4x4s, with 93 SUVs and 57 sedans among them.

Mathe noted, “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.”

She also mentioned that 135 of these vehicles have been returned to their lawful owners, emphasising the effectiveness of the ongoing operation.

Joint efforts with Mozambique

Mhlanga’s arrest and conviction follow a similar fate for his accomplice, Vusi Amos Malwane, who received a 55-year sentence in June 2023 from the Ingwavuma Magistrate Court. The coordinated efforts between South African and Mozambican authorities have been pivotal in addressing the issue of cross-border vehicle smuggling.

Mathe explained that a joint action plan between the police forces of both countries aims to prevent and combat these transnational crimes. She stated, “The joint action plan aims to ensure a dedicated team from both countries meet on a regular basis to conduct joint cross border operations with the aim of preventing and combating cross border vehicle smuggling, kidnappings and stock theft.”

The collaboration has also led to the confiscation of more than 70 illegal and unlicensed firearms, including 14 rifles, further weakening the syndicate’s operational capabilities.

Impact and future outlook

The continuous efforts of the task team have significantly disrupted the smuggling operations, restoring some measure of safety and security to the affected regions.

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

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