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Four men accused of killing a white rhino and removing its horn in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in 2009 have conflicting accounts of how they came to be arrested while travelling in the same bakkie. They were found with a rifle, two axes (one covered in blood) and two rhino horns on a hacked-off portion of the animal’s face.
Appearing in the Richards Bay Regional Court this week, the men – Mtungokwakhe Khoza, Ayanda Buthelezi, Mduduzi Xulu and Sifiso Ngema – were apprehended by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife ranger Lawrence Munro, with the support of police.
In his testimony, Munro said he had been alerted by field officer Nxumalo, who had heard a gunshot in the reserve.
He alerted the police and, while driving towards where he believed the shot had been fired, he saw the headlights of a vehicle coming towards him. He positioned his vehicle across the dirt road to block the path of the oncoming vehicle, which bypassed him, only to be stopped by police who were following him.
When the occupants in the cab of the bakkie climbed out of the vehicle, a 303 rifle and two axes were discovered. One of the axes, a long-handled axe, was covered in blood.
Following up on the case the next morning, Munro said, they came across the carcass of a large male white rhino in the reserve whose horns had been hacked off.
Khoza’s and Xulu’s lawyer, advocate Mbhele, put it to Munro that his clients’ clothing was bloodied because they had moved the long axe, which was “oozing” blood while the vehicle was moving along the dirt road, to behind the seat of the driver, and in so doing their clothing became bloodied. They claim the axe was in the vehicle when they accepted a lift from Buthelezi.
However, Munro said the blood on the back and shoulders of their clothing was in drops and spats, and not smears. The men said they had wiped their hands on their clothing after moving the axe.
He also said that, on inspecting the interior of the cab and bench seat, there were no smears or blood marks to indicate that the axe had been on the seat of the vehicle. He also testified that at the time of their arrest Khoza and Xulu did not say they were given a lift by Buthelezi.
Buthelezi’s legal representative said that, in his client’s version of events, he (Buthelezi) had been called by Khoza to assist him with transport so he could collect “stuff”.
The trial continues.