A pile of cigarettes
(Getty)
  • Some Namibian smokers are struggling to get hold of cigarette brands like Peter Stuyvesant, which is made in South Africa.
  • That seems unlikely, with SA exporting record numbers of cigarettes to Namibia.
  • In May alone, SA exported about as many cigarettes to Namibia as the entire country smokes in a year.
  • Around 66% of cigarette exports from South Africa go missing, according to one expert's analysis.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Andre le Roux, a public relations specialist in Windhoek, admits he’s a “a big smoker”. He’s particularly fond of smoking Peter Stuyvesant, a brand manufactured in South Africa by British American Tobacco.

However, over the last few months, he’s had trouble getting hold of Peter Stuyvesant.

“Certain types are sold out at places like Checkers, Pick n Pay, Spar and [Namibian retailer] Woermann Brock,” he says. “I’ve placed my family, friends and colleagues on high alert, and asked them to immediately buy if they find any.”

It’s particularly brands made in SA, or popular here, like Peter Stuyvesant, Pall Mall, Dunhill, and Rothmans that are mysteriously hard to find.

Retailers, though, say they're not seeing any shortages. A spokesperson for Ohlthaver & List, which runs Pick n Pay in Namibia, told Business Insider South Africa that there’s no shortage of cigarettes available in stores.

Le Roux isn’t alone, however. Various smokers in Namibia confirmed to Business Insider that they’re struggling to find cigarettes.

That should be pretty hard. Over the last few months, South Africa has exported record numbers of cigarettes to Namibia.

In 2019, South Africa exported 3.7 million kilograms of cigarettes to Namibia. In the first five months of 2020, that figure stood at 1.2 million kilograms, putting it on track for a slower year. But in May cigarette exports suddenly exploded, when South Africa exported 733,653 kilograms of cigarettes to Namibia – which could make for 8.8 million kilograms if that were kept up for a year.

That’s strange, says former Sars lawyer Telita Snyckers, and author of Dirty Tobacco.

READ | Illegal cigarettes are 'more profitable than heroin'. Here’s how they’re getting into SA.

Namibians smoke, on average, around 298 cigarettes per capita, Snyckers says, which equals about 729 million cigarettes a year. The export numbers for May suggest that, in one month, South Africa exported about as many cigarettes to Namibia as the entire country smokes in a year.

It's not just to Namibia, she says. In May, South African manufacturers exported the highest volume of cigarettes since 2017. The majority of these exports went to Mali, Namibia, and Lesotho.

Curiously, Mali's records don't show any cigarette imports from South Africa since 2017.

According to Snyckers, it would be “bizarre” if Namibians were struggling to get hold of their preferred South African brands.

Yet, that’s just what’s happening, anecdotal evidence shows.

“A lot of smokers are struggling to find their brands, and retailers can’t say when they’ll get stock in. It’s apparently a supplier issue, but no one is giving us any certainty,” says Le Roux.

So if there’s no apparent shortage of cigarettes according to retailers and export volumes, why would Le Roux and others struggle? There’s no official reason – because there’s no official shortage.

There is only the suggestive fact that the surge in cigarette volumes exported from South Africa coincided with the national ban on the sale of cigarettes in this country.

According to Snyckers, around one-third of cigarette exports go missing globally. In South Africa, around 66% – a full two thirds – of cigarettes declared for export go missing before reaching their destination, according to Snyckers’s analysis of Sars data.

Cigarette manufacturers blame theft, and say those cigarettes are being illegally smuggled back into South Africa.

Cigarette smuggling is an incredibly lucrative business. According to Johann van Loggerenberg, author of Tobacco Wars, criminal syndicates are earning R3 billion a month from cigarette sales during the lockdown.

READ | SA’s cigarette ban may be earning criminals R3bn a month, with syndicates rushing in

“You have 7.5 million smokers in South Africa who’ve just had their supply cut off,” says Van Loggerenberg. “It’s any entrepreneur or capitalist’s dream.”

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