The first possible trial date for the so-called “Groenewald Gang”, accused of running one of South Africa’s largest rhino poaching and trafficking syndicates, is only in 2021.
This emerged during the group’s brief appearance in the High Court in Pretoria yesterday.
Prosecutor Joanie Spies told the court a provisional trial date had been set for February 2021. Applications by some of the accused to have the trial struck from the roll because of an unreasonable delay will be heard next month.
Judge Cassim Sardiwalla provisionally postponed the case against Polokwane game farmer Dawie Groenewald and seven co-accused to 2021 for trial, but postponed applications in terms of Section 342a of the Criminal Procedure Act, which has to do with delays in the finalisation of criminal proceedings, to next month.
Andre Steenkamp, who represents Nardus Rossouw – the only one of the accused who was not out on bail – said he would ask the court to hold a special inquiry into the unreasonable delay of the trial and would seek an order to strike the case off the roll as his client, an innocent man, would be languishing in jail indefinitely while his criminal trial was pending.
He said a pending application by some of the accused to have certain charges against them declared unconstitutional could take years to conclude, causing an even longer delay.
All charges were earlier withdrawn against Groenewald’s wife, Sariette, and some of the charges were withdrawn against the rest following a ruling in the Constitutional Court, which lifted the moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn.
Although representations by veterinarian Manie du Plessis were partially successful, he remained an accused and plea negotiations were continuing.
Rossouw’s bail was withdrawn because of alleged further crimes committed while he was out on bail. Another of the accused, farm worker Paul Matomela, has since died.
Rossouw’s counsel has previously objected to delays in the trial, saying Rossouw was in a far worse position than sentenced prisoners.
Also read: Rhino poaching ‘syndicate’ trial delayed