Durban - The Magistrates’ Commission has moved to suspend KZN’s regional court president Eric Nzimande over allegations of misconduct.
The magistrate was served with a charge sheet on Tuesday and was given 14 days to respond to the claims.
He is in charge of appointing magistrates throughout the province.
Advocate Cassim Moosa, the spokesperson and chairman of the commission’s ethics committee, was not prepared to divulge the nature of the charges Nzimande faced.
“We are not going to comment on the number, nature or veracity of the charges until Nzimande has responded after 14 days.
“We don’t want to be accused of being involved in a trial by media over this matter,” said Moosa.
However, environmental organisation Saving the Wild published the Blood Rhino Blacklist in August 2017, and accused Nzimande of being a part of a “syndicate of magistrates and prosecutors protecting not only rhino poachers and kingpins, but murderers and rapists too”.
Activist Jamie Joseph, the founder of Saving the Wild, alleged the syndicate, including Nzimande, was being paid to let rhino poachers, murderers and rapists go free with just a slap on the wrist.
Joseph followed up with an open letter to the South African government, which had the support of world-renowned figures including founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson, primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and local musician Vusi Mahlasela.
The letter urged the government to take action against the alleged syndicate and to support the police in their investigations.
Recently, the BBC flighted its documentary, Rhino: Killing and Corruption, which delved into similar allegations made by Saving the Wild.
When approached for comment about the misconduct charges he faced, Nzimande said: “The matter is between me and the Magistrates’ Commission. I have to protect my rights. I can’t respond to the media.
“I’m surprised that the media is involved because this is an internal matter. It is unfair to have a trial by media.”
Joseph said she was relieved that Nzimande had finally been charged after three years of investigation.
Given all the racketeering, coupled with all the cash bribes, the terrible truth is that untold murderers, rapists, rhino poachers and other criminals are out there walking free because of a systematic web of corruption woven by the very people put in charge of protecting South Africans, claimed Joseph.
“Justice must be served to all,” she said.
Asked why it took three years to conclude the investigation, Moosa said: “The delays were due to the complicated nature of the investigations. There was a large volume of documentary evidence to view and witnesses to interview.
“We did not lay supine, we have been very busy with our investigations.”
Moosa said the stance taken in the Nzimande matter was not an “arbitrary decision taken by one person but collectively by the Magistrates’ Commission’s 29 members, and it excluded members of Parliament”.
He said an investigation team from within the commission was appointed. They drafted a report together that was looked at by ethics committee, which includes Moosa and eight others.
A decision was made based on the report, which was then referred to the full committee to deliberate over.
“Our decision was arrived at with all 29 members in agreement,” he said.
However, he refused to comment about allegations that some witnesses, who were interviewed by the commission, had received death threats.