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An Abalone (Haliotis midae) smuggling syndicate is using Zimbabwe as a transit route for the valuable marine snails from South Africa to Asia and other African countries. Abalone is a family of reef-dwelling marine snails which are a lucrative export commercial fishery[1] and can sell between USD700 and USD2000 per kilogram[2]. This paper exposes the underhand dealings on Abalone and how Zimbabwe is a central route for smuggling.


Recently, on two separate occasions, over 400kg of Abalone were intercepted at Beitbridge Border post and at Robert Mugabe International Airport. The cargo intercepted at RG International Airport was destined for China while the one intercepted at Beitbridge port was destined for Zambia. In both instances, the dried Abalone was seized by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) under the Customs and Excise Act. Frank Matavise and Rockdont-Yang Kasese were arrested at Beitbridge Border post and their South African registered truck impounded. They were taken to court and granted bail by a Beitbridge magistrate.

Information gathered by Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG) reveals that the duo declared the Abalone as noodles in their papers which were submitted to ZIMRA. They however, failed to produce export permits issued by South African authorities, leading to their arrest. There are also revelations that one of the accused had an expired passport but was still granted bail. According to state papers, the two are facing charges of smuggling and possession of fake documents purportedly coming from the neighbouring South Africa enroute to Zambia.

The owners of the cargo that was confiscated at Beitbridge border post approached the High Court, and a ruling by Justice Webster Chinamora made on the 7th of July ordered ZIMRA to release the smuggled goods to the accused. The High Court also ordered ZIMRA to escort the truck to Chirundu. The High Court ruling raises suspicion that this could be a well-oiled syndicate involving various arms of the state and agencies of the government. According to papers seen by CNRG, armed with a court ruling, on 8 July, Samkange Hungwe attorneys wrote to ZIMRA demanding release of the cargo.

Trade in Abalone is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As the smuggling scandal unraveled, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority through their CITES office reportedly checked with their counterparts in South Africa to verify the source and the intended destination in Zambia but could not get confirmation of permits, suggesting that the fish was illicitly exported.

In June, more than 400kg of Abalone were intercepted at Robert Mugabe International Airport aboard an Emirates plane destined for Dubai. Although Zimbabwe does not have this sea shellfish, the discovery of Abalone shows the seriousness of smuggling of wildlife products globally and exposes the country as a possibly willing transit route.

CNRG Director, Farai Maguwu said Zimbabwe needs to play its part in curbing wildlife trafficking by plugging porosity at the ports of entry and exit.

“Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming a transit route for wildlife and wildlife products traffickers. These are taking advantage of lax security at the ports of entry and exit. There is therefore a need to strengthen the capacity of immigration officials and security agencies to better appreciate how these crimes compromise biodiversity.

There is also a need to deal with corruption in the judiciary, ZIMRA, immigration and law enforcement agencies,” said Maguwu.

Although not on the Red List, the South African Abalone is facing threat of extinction[3]. An estimated 40,000 tons of Abalone have been harvested from South African waters since 2001, a figure which is 10 times the legal quota set by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to prevent complete extinction within about a decade[4].

Illicit trade in wildlife and wildlife products is a growing problem the world over. In most cases, it involves well-organized syndicates and transnational networks. According to the Global Initiative report on The Underworld of Abalone, an illicit supply chain connecting marginalized South African coastal communities with wealthy Chinese consumers has all but depleted South Africa’s stock of prized Abalone.[5] Illicit trade in Abalone is among the world’s stranger black-market industries, stretching from the shores of South Africa to China’s luxury seafood market, and facilitated by drug barons, corrupt officials and neighbouring African states.[6]

Since 2000, according to a report by Traffic, poaching syndicates have smuggled more than 96 million Abalone to Hong Kong – the epicenter of the trade. This equates to nearly 15,000 of the shellfish illegally harvested each day.

CNRG calls on:

  • The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ)  and its neighbouring countries to commit resources for the creation of a Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Network of wildlife smuggling at all ports of entry/exit and furnish the regional network with dedicated resources to curb the smuggling of endangered wildlife.
  • The Anti-Corruption Commission to look into the rising cases of smuggling of wildlife and wildlife products, targeting the Judiciary, ZIMRA, and Zimparks.
  •  Law enforcement agencies to meaningfully participate in intelligence gathering, border control, policing, monitoring and identifying of the smuggling syndicates of wildlife and wildlife products. 
  • The GoZ to impose stiffer penalties on perpetrators of wildlife and marine life traffickers. The punitive measures would also act as a deterrent measure to would be criminals.

[1] https://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Documents/recreational_fishing/fact_sheets/fact_sheet_abalone.pdf

[2] http://www.fishtech.com/speech-2000.html

[3] https://seafoodtradeadvisory.com/wild-abalone-is-endangered/

[4] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/wildlife-watch-abalone-poaching-south-africa

[5] https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/abalone-poaching/

[6] https://globalinitiative.net/analysis/abalone-poaching/

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