Counterfeit
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  • President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised that the government will clamp down on the import of counterfeit goods.
  • Fakes are harming the economy, and putting lives at risk, but the numbers suggest a more tightly guarded border and cracking down on sellers won't be enough.
  • Consumer education might help, though.
  • For more stories, go to the Business Insider SA homepage.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that illegal counterfeit goods are strangling the local economy – and pledged that government will do more to clamp down on illegal imports of these products.

But that may be nearly impossible, best-guess expert estimates of the scale of the problem suggest.

Perhaps 2% of the thousands of containers that arrive in Durban's harbour ever day are scanned for illegal items, estimates Amanda Lotheringen, senior manager of copyright and intellectual-property enforcement for the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).

See also: 72% of the ‘Louis Vuitton’ bags, belts and sunglasses on Gumtree are fake – here’s how the experts can tell

On top of that, the volume of counterfeit goods entering South Africa by air is astronomical, according to Steven Yeats, a partner and trademark attorney at Adams & Adams in Cape Town. He estimates that in the first half of 2019, hundreds of millions of rands worth of counterfeit goods illegally landed at OR Tambo International Airport alone.

And that is not counting smuggling by road from neighbouring countries.

It is not just fake Rolexes and Gucci bags streaming into South Africa. Counterfeits of the traditional culprits - clothing, shoes, handbags, and jewellery – are all on sale, but so are fake car parts, medicine, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, face creams, and even food.

There is local manufacturing to contend with; secret factories in far-flung places that tirelessly turn out the fakes. In Hartswater in the Northern Cape, police last year uncovered counterfeit production of spices, sanitary towels, and shoe polish worth roughly an estimated R80 million.

See also: How to spot a fake Rolex

Raiding and shutting down these counterfeiting operations seems to have no observable effect on volumes, but doing nothing is not an option.

Economically, fakes harm South Africa by impacting the taxable revenues of the real thing, and deterring investment, Lotheringen says.

They also present safety hazards. In a particularly sinister example, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority has identified a steady stream of counterfeit antiretroviral drugs for AIDS treatment entering the country since 2006. Counterfeit car parts too put many people at risk.

The answer, she says, may not be attempts at better enforcement – as Ramaphosa has promised – but education of potential buyers.

“Consumers must understand what’s at stake,” she says.

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