The Senwabarwana Regional Court in Limpopo South Africa has convicted and sentenced 45-year-old Zimbabwean national Oliver Mupanga to five years direct imprisonment for possession of illicit cigarettes and entering the Republic of South Africa without a valid passport.
Limpopo regional spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Mashudu Malabi-Dzhangi said Mupanga was found in possession of over one thousand cartons of Remington Gold cigarettes, valued at over R300 000.
“On the 15 of August 2022, around 1am on the R523 (road) towards Louis Trichardt, the police from Polokwane highway patrol unit spotted a suspicious Toyota Corolla with registration number CMT 730 L, driving at high speed. They tried to stop it while flashing blue lights, but it never stopped,” Malabi-Dzhangi.
“They decided to chase it until it (the Toyota Corolla) hit something on the road and came to a standstill. Two people alighted from the motor vehicle and ran in different directions.”
However, the police managed to apprehend Mupanga “as he was unable to run properly, since he has one leg”.
When the police searched the Toyota Corolla, they found 1 104 cartons of Remington Gold cigarettes inside the vehicle.
“According to an affidavit from the Department of Home Affairs, the accused is illegal in the country,” said Malabi-Dzhangi.
Mupanga was convicted on 23 January after a guilty plea in respect of both counts.
Malabi-Dzhangi said during the previous appearance, the matter was postponed for arguments on the sentence by both the State and the defence.
“In mitigation of the sentence, the defence lawyer submitted that the accused’s plea of guilty is a sign of remorse as he did not waste the court time,” she said.
She said the court also heard that Mupanga is crippled, as he has one leg and was said to be “suffering in custody” due to his condition.
Additionally, the court also heard that Mupanga is a breadwinner with eight children, and his wife is unemployed.
“He had been in custody for six months, and he had partly served his sentence. The accused said he can afford a fine of R20 000,” said Malabi-Dzhangi.
In aggravation of sentence, State advocate Phumudzo Mudau submitted that the accused had been convicted of two offences which are very serious and prevalent within the court’s area of jurisdiction.
Malabi-Dzhangi said Mudau told the court that it was “very difficult” to apprehend offenders who commit offences of the nature committed by Mupanga.
The first count of transporting illicit cigarettes involved a syndicate, and the crime affects the economy of South Africa, the court heard. Mudau further pleaded that the court imposes a custodial sentence which would deter Mupanga and other would-be offenders from committing similar offences in the future.
The court also heard that Mupanga “had not learnt any lessons from his previous convictions and punishment”.
In the end, the court sentenced Mupanga to five years direct imprisonment, without an option of a fine for the possession of illicit cigarettes, and an additional three months imprisonment for entering South Africa without a passport. The sentences will run concurrently.
The vehicle was forfeited to the state. Additionally, Mupanga was also declared unfit to possess a firearm.
The National Prosecuting Authority in Limpopo has welcomed the stiff sentence handed to Mupanga, adding that it hopes the jail term would deter would-be offenders.