Rhino poachers sentenced a decade after arrest
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Hawks head Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya hailed the conviction and sentencing of the suspects.
The trio, Funokwakhe Khoza, 51, Ayanda Buthelezi, 40, and Mduduzi Xulu, 51 were arrested in August 2009 by the KZN Hawks’ Wildlife Anti-Poaching Unit and park game rangers at a roadblock.
They were travelling in a Nissan bakkie carrying a .303 rifle and two axes covered in blood.
The roadblock was set up after rangers heard gunshots while on patrol. The men were caught with blood dripping from their clothing and in possession of two rhino horns.
The suspects were arrested on the spot and the case docket was allocated to Richards Bay Serious Organised Crime members for further investigation.
The case dragged on for nearly 10 years following several attempts by the suspects to stall the court proceedings.
During the lengthy trial, the investigating officer emigrated to Australia, the arresting officer moved to Malawi and some of the remaining State witnesses disappeared or were too ill to testify.
Khoza gave various excuses and changed lawyers, which hampered the administration of justice.
Despite the delay tactics, Khoza was sentenced to 14 years’ direct imprisonment, while Buthelezi and Xulu were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years each.
Khoza had already been tried, convicted and sentenced to six years in jail for a separate case of rhino poaching in the Vryheid area - a crime for which he has already served his sentence.
The Vryheid crime was committed while Khoza was out on bail for the Hluhluwe case.
The IFP welcomed the conviction of the poachers, but lamented the fact that the trial took 10 years to complete.
The IFP’s Narend Singh called for the Department of Justice and the office of the Chief Justice to establish specialist wildlife criminal courts.
“Rhino poaching in particular, and wildlife poaching in general, are out of control. These courts should be staffed by highly skilled wildlife crime prosecutors and magistrates,” Singh said.