Police blamed for delay in sentencing poachers

FILE PIC: A helicopter hovers about a rhino while a vet darts the animal in order to be tagged and have DNA samples collected.  Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

FILE PIC: A helicopter hovers about a rhino while a vet darts the animal in order to be tagged and have DNA samples collected. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Police tardiness was blamed when sentencing procedures had to be postponed after the Nelspruit Magistrates’ Court passed judgement in a five-and-a-half-year-long poaching case on Tuesday.

Police were unable to provide the state prosecutor with proof of a rhino poacher’s previous convictions, which resulted in the case being delayed for another week, Lowvelder reported.

Calvyn Dlamini, 31, David Moses Mawelele, 36 and Sifiso Luphuko, 32, were found guilty of having poached rhino in the Kruger National Park (KNP) on November 1, 2009. Magistrate Nomaswazi Shabangu summarised the evidence presented by the state that led to their convictions.

“It was testified by a game ranger, Mr Maluleke, that the accused were seen entering the park on the morning of their arrest,” she said. Shabangu recalled that the guilty parties’ version held that a certain Khoza Magongo led them into the KNP. According to the men, Magongo told them he was a game ranger and that he was authorised to escort them into the park.

“When the accused were arrested, a bag was found in their possession. In the bag, a saw and knife were found. According to state witnesses, these items are used to remove rhino horns,” she said.

The convicts maintained they had no idea as to what was in the bag. Shabangu questioned their failure to call Magongo as a witness to support their case. She also pointed out their version of events had changed during the course of the trial, which was to their detriment. The rifle that was found on one of the men was, according to their first version, given to them by Magongo. They later said it had been handed to one of them by game rangers, whom they averred had framed them. “Your version is rejected,” Shabangu ruled.

The men had been charged with a total of 22 charges. On Tuesday, Shabangu ruled that some of these were duplicates. Mawelele, Dlamini and Luphuko were found guilty of trespassing in the Kruger, poaching rhino and attempting to steal rhino horn.

Senior state advocate Isabet Erwee placed on record that the pre-sentencing procedures could not proceed as the state was still awaiting documentation pertaining to a previous conviction of Mawelele. According to a reliable source, he had previously been convicted of rhino poaching in the park. This remains to be proven in court by relevant documentation. Normally, a person’s previous convictions are relayed on an SAP 69 form, which was not available for Mawelele in this case.

Erwee then requested that old court books be dug up, but this ended up being a dead end, as the books were apparently destroyed in a rainstorm and could not prove his previous convictions.

A third attempt at digging up his criminal record was made, which entailed a visit to jail, where his detention warrant signed by the magistrate who sent him to prison was obtained.

Erwee explained that this warrant existed, but that the police had failed to secure its presence at court.

She explained that the investigating officer in the case, Warrant Officer Willie Broodryk, was on sick leave and that his colleague, Warrant Officer Swys Vermaak, had tried to locate the warrant but was not able to find it on time. “Your worship, the state can only do so much. We have done what we can and we need the police here. This is where our hands are tied,” she said.

Shabangu postponed the case until July 14 for evidence regarding Mawelele’s alleged previous conviction.

– Caxton News Service


today in print