Embattled Hawks spokesman, Colonel McIntosh Polela, has been accused of poaching after a KwaZulu-Natal farmer told police he caught him “red-handed” with a common reedbuck and a grey duiker – both protected species – without a permit at a Midlands nature reserve.
Polela, currently on suspension on an unrelated matter, confirmed on Monday night that he was a long-time hunter, but insisted he had committed no wrong. He said he had not known the buck was a protected species or that he needed a permit to hunt it.
He dismissed the complaint as nothing but an attempt by a white farmer to treat a black person as a criminal for hunting.
The Himeville farmer, who did not want to be named, said last night that he had handed pictures of Polela and his hunting party, as well as the shot animals in the back of a bakkie, to police.
He claimed the animals had been hunted at The Swamp Nature Reserve, in Himeville.
KZN police spokesman, Colonel Vincent Mdunge, confirmed police were in possession of the pictures.
“If Polela is identified as one of the suspects in the picture, he will be arrested,” Mdunge said.
“But, for now, we have no official word on this. A case of illegal poaching has been opened.”
He said it had been alleged that when a pair of farmers confronted the hunters, they were threatened at gunpoint.
Mdunge said the hunters had fled before police could arrive.
Polela responded: “I hope he took good pictures. He must prove that I shot the animals on the reserve. We were hunting on a community land. I got permission from the local chiefs. In fact, one of them was even with me at the time.”
However, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s district conservation officer for Underberg, Richard Schutte, said all game were protected species and a permit was needed to hunt them.
He said the common reedbuck was protected in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and was regarded as a protected species and could not be hunted.
“Hunting season is presently closed.
“It starts again on May 31 until August 31,” Schutte said, adding that he had been alerted to the alleged incident.
“I issue the permits for hunting in this area. All applications go through the district conservation officer. I did not issue any permits recently. Someone in my absence could have issued them, but I am not aware (of it),” he said.
The farmer said he was watching TV on Thursday night at 11.20pm when he noticed a spotlight in the reserve.
“The vehicle appeared to be making strange turns and the spotlight was all over the place,” he said. “I became suspicious and decided to investigate.”
He said he approached the bakkie and flicked his lights at them to stop. They did not care. They just ignored me and continued to shine the light. They were very brazen.”
He said as he overtook them, he noticed a high powered rifle, equipped with a silencer, strapped to the top of the bakkie.
“The rifle looked like a .308 and I would say it was worth at least R30 000,” he said.
He said while following the bakkie he alerted another farmer on the two-way radio.
“They then drove on to the boundary of my farm. I stopped them. I told them that hunting on a reserve was illegal. A man, with a strong English accent spoke. He told me ‘good luck catching us’.”
He said they turned their bakkie and drove back into the reserve.
“They drove towards the Pevensey community area. By this time, the other farmer had caught up with me. I had also called the police and Schutte.”
He said he and the other farmer cut the bakkie off and blocked their path of travel.
“I then took pictures of the people in the car and the dead animals with my cellphone. They became extremely abusive and called us white racist bastards.”
The farmer said the situation became very heated and the man with the English accent told him to take as many pictures as he wanted.
“He said he lived in the area and hunted all the time. I told him he needed a permit to hunt. I then tried to seize the dead animals as evidence, but they became even more aggressive. They swore at us,” he said.
“We realised they were armed and decided to let things be. Anyway, we had the evidence on camera. They were caught red-handed.”
He said the man with the accent asked him if he knew who he was. “He told me I could never touch him.”
On their way home the farmer’s colleague said he recognised Polela from a “Carte Blanche” programme.
“We then looked at the pictures and confirmed it was him. He grew up in the Pevensey community area.”
He said he feared that his safety was at risk, and denied claims by Polela that this was a racist incident.
“Illegal hunting and poaching is reaching extraordinary proportions in our country,” he said. “I put myself on the line with this incident. I could have been killed. I pray something comes of it.”
Polela refused to name the local chief whom he said had granted him permission to hunt on the land, saying he did not want to drag his name through the mud.
He said he had made enquiries at the Ezemvelo offices in Underberg on whether the buck was a protected species. “No-one told me it was protected or that I needed a permit.”
Polela confirmed he had used a rifle with a silencer.
“In fact I had three guns in all. The law allows for a silencer. It is just to muffle the loud sound as to not damage the ears. I am a regular hunter. I have been doing it since the age of five.”
Polela said he was being treated like a criminal and would not stand for it.
“In fact this farmer has a history of bad relations with the black people in the area. He should be investigated,” he said. “On that night when he confronted me, he told me he was going to open a case. I told him to b****r off.”
Polela aired his views on Twitter.
“I am lazying in bed after another hunting trip at my community farm. Next trip April 1. I guess more hot water.”
Polela also tweeted: “It’s a usual case of a farmer who sees brown people hunting and reckons they are criminals.”