Wildlife non-profit organisation Saving the Wild, which monitors and exposes wildlife crime, specifically poaching, was granted access on Thursday to the disciplinary hearing of suspended KwaZulu-Natal regional court president Eric Nzimande.
The hearing, being held by the Magistrates’ Commission, is dealing with allegations of improper conduct that have been made against Nzimande.
Nzimande, who has denied any wrongdoing, has entered a plea of not guilty to the 162 charges he faces.
He has been charged with receiving money from attorneys who were acting as regional magistrates in the regional division, unlawfully and wrongfully victimising or sexually harassing an acting magistrate, requesting a loan from an attorney for his daughter’s university studies, and contacting an accused in a human trafficking case.
Saving the Wild, represented by advocate Samantha Martin, brought an application to intervene before the hearing yesterday, saying it has an interest in the matter and wanted to observe the proceedings and to make legal submissions at the end of the proceedings.
While the disciplinary charges against Nzimande make no mention of poaching or wildlife crime, The Mercury’s sister newspaper, the “Sunday Tribune”,has previously reported that Saving the Wild had in the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’, which was released in 2017, revealed “role-players who benefited from horn-trading, and magistrates, prosecutors and police who turned a blind eye to crimes”.
Nzimande was among those named the newspaper reported.
In its brief written submissions it said: “The applicant wishes to assist in the administration of justice. The applicant’s objective is to ensure that the meaning of ‘environmental justice’ as encapsulated in the mandatory principles of Section 2 of the National Environmental Act is protected and implemented.
“The inclusion of the applicant will ensure that justice is ‘done and seen to be done’. It will also assist a public, that is interested and impacted regarding allegations against office-bearers who wield considerable power. Such power is subject to public scrutiny and trust in an open and democratic society, based on inclusion and transparency.”
The submission said the organisation had actively been overseeing rhino poaching matters since 2016, which included spending hours watching several rhino poaching cases in the division overseen by Nzimande.
“The applicant has exposed several alarming issues relating to the respondent’s (Nzimande) conduct to state department investigations.”
The group also mentioned the Blood Rhino Blacklist, which “detailed an alleged syndicate of corrupt dealings directly linked to the respondent (Nzimande), involving poaching syndicates”.
The submission said concern about Nzimande’s conduct was also reported to former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
“The applicant has proactively followed up on the accountability, transparency and legitimacy of the oversight into the respondent’s conduct.”
Neither the evidence leader nor the legal representation for Nzimande, attorney Ravindra Maniklall, had objections to the application to intervene and it was granted by presiding retired Judge Jeremiah Shongwe.
The disciplinary hearing is expected to continue on March 4.