Illicit dealers say they made huge profits selling smokes, booze

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Pretoria – An entrepreneur in the illicit market said yesterday they had made a fortune by selling cigarettes and alcohol since the country went into lockdown in March.

The bootlegger confessed he was a supplier – often also referred to as “the plug” – for many people needing the items during the stricter lockdown levels.

He said with regard to liquor transactions, these differed everywhere. “In Eersterust, dustbins dragged through the streets at odd hours are a sure sign of alcohol delivery. But in Mamelodi, they have all of the intricacy of a silver screen dope deal (wrapped in silver wrappers).”

He said it started with a call to a shebeen owner. “An order is placed. The plug then meets the client on a street corner near his establishment and a payment is made.

“Because of the high risk for him and the general scarcity of booze, he adds much profit before selling stock off,” he said.

“It’s quite simple; first we enquire who actually wants to buy booze. If it’s a well-off person from the suburbs, then we overly inflate the prices to almost 400% profit. They have money and don’t care that much.

“Then there are the normal and not so well-off guys. In this case it is hard to inflate the prices; we just do it for brotherhood, we just do it because they may know one or two well-off people who can buy from us,” he said.

He said many gardeners and domestic workers bought a lot for their employers in the suburbs.

“Their bosses relied on them for booze and cigarettes, but more especially cigarettes, during the dry period.

For instance we sold a 20 pack of Courtleigh for R180, while it usually goes for R50, or a pack of 20 Sharp which usually goes for R17.50, for R100,” he said.

South Africa’s underground market for liquor during the lockdown was not limited to townships.

Contacts and price lists have been doing frantic rounds on WhatsApp groups, he revealed. “And it is this national reach which enveloped townships and suburbs alike, and distinguished today’s prohibition from yesteryear’s.

“Now we have to find alternative ways to make money.”

One of his peers has been arrested during a transaction and remains in custody. He said they were aware that when going about their underground dealings, they had to do so carefully.

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