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Cape Town - Knock-off Nike trainers, Roxy T-shirts and even boxes of imitation Lion matches were just some of the counterfeit goods a task team seized during a raid at the Bellville Shopping Centre on Wednesday morning.
It was a chaotic scene as police, city law enforcement and customs officers descended on the known hot spot for illegal trading near the train station at around 10am.
Vendors rushed to slam the metal shutters in front of their stores as police shouted out orders and an alarm in the building burst into life.
At first, it seemed like the shop owners had caught wind of the planned raid, with many of the stores found locked and bolted.
But after police convinced vendors that it was in their best interest to allow them to search the stores, a near-endless supply of counterfeit goods, including Manchester United watches, Puma flip-flops and Trukfit caps, were discovered.
In some stores, secret trapdoors hidden behind shelves leading to cramped storage rooms were uncovered by police.
Brand holders, specialising in identifying a variety of products, aided the task team in pointing out counterfeit goods.
“This is shocking, just shocking,” said one shop owner as a bag of sports shoes was taken away.
This is the latest in a series of raids conducted by the task team since Sunday. Other areas that were targeted included Muizenberg, Vredendal, Clanwilliam, Laaiplek and Vredenburg.
Police spokesman Colonel Tembinkosi Kinana said counterfeit goods worth more than R5.2 million were seized, including clothing, electronics, shoe polish, shaving blades and even poisons.
Vendors found guilty of selling counterfeit items could be fined up to R5 000 an item, as prescribed by the Counterfeit Goods Act.
However, Wednesday’s raid is just the tip of the iceberg. Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay told the Cape Argus that last year the tax collector conducted more than 25 000 seizures and confiscated illegal goods valued at R2.6 billion.
Illegal clothing and textiles made up R1.1bn of the amount.
The import of counterfeit clothing and textiles was even highlighted by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as a problem area that would be tackled by the Sars Compliance Programme over the next five years.
Lackay said these goods predominantly come from South-East Asia. He said knock-off goods were smuggled into the country because there was a massive demand by local consumers.
“It’s like the drug trade, there wouldn’t be smuggling if people didn’t want to buy them. People must understand that by buying ‘grey goods’ - stolen or those that have been illegally imported - they are supporting an even bigger franchise of illicit activity.”
He said consumers may be saving a bit of money, but the trade was ultimately hurting the economy.
“Firstly, it results in job losses… It takes money out of the economy… And the other part is that people buy an inferior product that does not comply to stringent safety and quality standards imposed on goods that have been bought legally.”
Michael Bagraim, chairman of the human capital portfolio committee for the Cape Chamber of Commerce, agreed the trade of knock-offs could cripple the economy if left unchecked.
“South Africa is seen as top destination for counterfeit goods. We are the biggest economy in Africa, and because of this there is a big retail market here, too. But it is being abused by counterfeiters across the world and at the end of the day the public is getting cheated with inferior goods.
“The people who buy the product don’t gain, the economy doesn’t gain and real goods just don’t sell… Everyone loses,” he added.
Bagraim would like to see a crackdown on players at all levels of the trade, from the vendors on the street to the big suppliers overseas.
“There should be a permanent crackdown. We need to start with the little guy and work our way up.”
But Abdullahi Jeuylani, a former shop owner at the Bellville Shopping Centre, said it was unfair that vendors were persecuted for selling counterfeit goods: “A guy comes down in a nice suit, offers to sell us all these goods for a nice price. We don’t know where they come from, we are just trying to make a little bit of money.”
He said he gave up on his shop in the centre after police repeatedly confiscated the clothing he was selling.
“The police need to leave us alone. Go after the big guys if you really want to stop this. They are the ones who are bringing this stuff into the country.”
Average cost for counterfeit big-brand items:
* Running shoes - R250.
* Jackets - R175.
* Caps - R150.
* T-shirts - R50.
* Watches - R150.
Average retail price for big-brand items:
* Running shoes - R1 000.
* Jackets - R400.
* Caps - R250.
* T-shirts - R175.
* Watches - R600.