SUSPECT RHINO POACHERS’ TRIAL SET FOR NOVEMBER
Game Park’s Jubela Reilly amongst witnesses
FOLLOWING a pre-trial conference held at the High Court two months ago, the trial of the four suspect rhino poachers including a South African Police Service (SAPS) officer has now been set for November 19.
The trial has been allocated three days beginning November 19 through to 21.
The crown has lined up nine witnesses for the case.
According to the summons addressed to the witnesses, they are commanded to lay aside all and singular business and excuses and appear personally before the High Court of Eswatini on the three days set at 0900 hours to testify all and singular those things they know concerning the indictment of the suspects Stanley Nhlakalufu (SAPS) Muzi Dlamini (Swazi) Sipho Mhlanga (Swazi) and Isaac Mkhabela (South African).
This means that the three will know their fate soon as they are still languishing in jail.
Following their admission to bail fixed at E50 000, the crown filed an appeal where the crown represented by Patrick Mkhatjwa stated that the court aquo erred in law in refusing to hear evidence viva voce to clarify issues that were in dispute as it had opposed the bail application by the four.
The crown further stated in its appeal that the court aquo erred in admitting the four suspects to bail.
In its opposing papers during the bail application, the crown had submitted that the four were a flight risk with two of them being South African nationals.
High Court Judge Sipho Nkosi ordered that they pay E5 000 in cash each and E45 000 each in a form of a surety. Judge Nkosi attached stringent conditions to the bail and amongst them is that they are to report to the nearest police on a daily basis pending their trial at the High Court.
The crown had initially opposed the bail application filed by the court stating that they are a flight risk.
The four are facing a total of 14 counts which were allegedly committed during the attempted poaching at Hlane Game Park.
The main charge is that of contravening the Game Act in that they allegedly entered the game park and attempted to poach the rhino.
Additional charges of murder and contravening the Prevention of Corruption Act amongst others were added by the crown.
According to Detective Sergeant Bheki Shabangu of Simunye Police Station, in his answering affidavit, investigations revealed that the mastermind in the rhino poaching deal was the fourth accused Mhlanga who is alleged to have approached the Gamer Ranger Fana Mbatha and orchestrated the plan to poach the rhino.
Shabangu stated his investigations further revealed that Mbatha was called by Mhlanga and enquired if the coast was clear on the day of the poaching and Mbatha replied to the affirmative and the team of poachers, involving Mhlanga and two Mozambican national who died during the incident drove into the game park to execute the poaching.
They drove in motor vehicle registered DSD 389 CM and Mhlanga was the one driving because he had knowledge of the map at Hlane Royal Game Park as a local resident and knew that there were no locked gates save for a no entry signage reserved for members of the public.
At around 1am a motor vehicle was noticed inside the game park and detective Shabangu who was investigating the suspected poaching realised that the poachers had been able to enter without being noticed using a route not permitted to the public.
Rangers who were patrolling on foot according to Shabangu tried to stop the poachers’ vehicle but they did not heed to the call but instead opened fire to the direction of the rangers on patrol resulting in a cross fire between the poachers and the rangers including Jubela who was part of them.
The members of the patrolling team are said to have bravely advanced towards the poachers’ motor vehicle only to find that one of the poachers had been shot and a search ensued as they had noticed that there was more than one occupant in the vehicle.
Found in the vehicle was an empty cartridge, a magazine, loaded firearm with 13 live rounds of ammunition, knives, silencer, axe and bags. The search team was able find another poacher with the assistance of sniffer dogs and both the poachers found shot were already dead.
“We received a 999 Police Emergency line report from a man who identified himself as Sipho Mhlanga who asked that the police assist in conveying him to hospital and stated that he would be found at Hlane, indeed we proceeded to the spot where he directed us and we rushed him to Good Shepherd Hospital,” Shabangu stated.
Mhlanga and another man identified as Mandlanti Shabangu were apprehended through the use of sniffer dogs.
Because of the information he had detective Shabangu stated that he called another patrolling motor vehicle and informed the police officers to be on the lookout as there were two motor vehicles used in the poaching and the other vehicle was a Toyota Corolla registered HDY 266 MP.
Detective Shabangu stated in his papers that indeed the vehicle was found being driven by Isaac Mkhabela and ordered that the vehicle and its occupants be driven to Simunye Police Station together with passports of the deceased Lucky Mandlati Shabangu and Castigo Jaime Zucula as well as those of Nhlakalufu and Mkhabela. The shooting of the patrolling team according to Shabangu was lawful and not a cover up as argued by the applicants in the bail application.
The list of witnesses
James Jubela Reilley Fana Vusi Mbatha Detective Inspector Mfanasibili Dlamini Detective Constable Mfanawemphi Gwebu Mandla Jameson Mhlanga Themba Malangwane Nkosinathi Malindzisa Detective Sergeant Abner Shabangu Detective Inspector Vincent Mbingo