Suspected rhino poachers cheat death, deny being part of poaching ploy
Three suspected rhino poachers who have been arrested by the police for allegedly poaching a rhino at Hlane Royal Game Reserve have denied being part of a poaching ploy orchestrated by a game ranger there.
The three Stanley Nhlakalufu of South Africa, Isaac Mkhabela and Muzi Dlamini, both from Swaziland, confirm knowledge of a ploy orchestrated by the game ranger, one Fana Mbatha based at Hlane to be part of a deal to poach a rhino but denied taking part in the alleged poaching which saw two poachers being shot and killed by rangers and the police.
The three have since filed an urgent bail application at the High Court following their arrest by the Tshaneni police after being charged with five counts of contravening the Game Act and the Arms and Ammunition Act.
They are represented by lawyer Machawe Sithole in the matter which is before High Court Judge Sipho Nkosi.
According to the charge sheet, they are alleged to have while at Hlane attempted to poach a rhino, thus contravening the Game Act and they are further charged with contravening the Arms and Ammunition Act in that they were allegedly found in illegal possession of a Holland 375High Range rifle with a grinded serial number and 13 live rounds of ammunition.
According to the first accused Nhlakalufu, Mbatha and one Sipho Mhlanga knew each other and he (Nhlakalufu) and the two Mkhabela and Dlamini had to join in the deal after being informed by Mhlanga.
“We then later met the said Mbatha who gave us assurance as to how the plan will be executed and the ranger also told us he had keys to the gates leading to where the rhinos were, but on the day of the alleged attempt to poach, I and the two applicants were not part of the plan as Mkhabela refused to have his vehicle registered HYD 266 MP used after we suspected Mbatha of trapping us,” he stated in his affidavit. He further submitted that true to their fears and suspicion, when Sipho Mhlanga drove with two others on the day of the alleged poaching, the two were shot and killed by rangers together with the police when they got in to the Hlane Game Park. Nhlakalufu submitted that he heard of a similar incident in which Mbatha tried to trap some other alleged poachers who were eventually killed.
“I submit that this has been a clear case of a failed trap by the game ranger together with the police as Sipho Mhlanga informed me that they were shot whilst inside the motor vehicle they were driving in,” Nhlakaluku submitted.
He further submitted that the charges pressed against them were only brought to cover up the unlawfulness in the shootings which saw the two being gunned down and that should he and the other two applicants been part of those who were in the car, they should not have been spared from the shooting as they would have been killed.
They submitted that during trial they will plead not guilty to the charges they are facing and are ready to plead their case during the trial set for the Simunye Magistrate’s Court which was supposed to have commenced on August 22, 2017. However, instead of the trial resuming, he submitted that they were served with an amended charge sheet in which a charge of attempted murder was included, arguing that this was a deliberate poly by the Crown to oust the Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction in order for them to languish in jail for a lengthy period before their trial.
“Even though I reside in South Africa, there is nothing to fear to warrant that I may abscond trial. I am ready for the trial and will not interfere with the Crown’s witnesses, more so because I do not even known them,” Nhlakalufu submitted. Meanwhile, the two other applicants Mkhabela and Dlamini, supported Nhlakalufu’s affidavit and submitted that if admitted to bail they undertake not to jeopardise the administration of justice and public order.
They stated that this matter is urgent by virtue of the fact that it touches on their liberty and that they are still innocent, adding that they do not even known when their trail date would be, nothing that their continued incarceration is prejudicial, both to their constitutional right and health.
The circumstances of this matter, according to the applicants, warrants that this matter be heard of urgency as they have demonstrated above.
Judge Nkosi postponed the matter to Thursday next week for arguments by both the Crown and the defence counsel