DURBAN - The trial of an alleged feared kingpin of a syndicate that pocketed millions of rands through rhino poaching is to go ahead this week after 20 adjournments.
Details of how police, State prosecutors and magistrates allegedly benefited from protecting the alleged syndicate head, Dumisani Gwala, 56, could emerge.
Gwala, who once spat at a journalist outside Ngwelezana Regional Magistrate’s Court in Empangeni during one of his appearances, is due to appear in the same court on Tuesday alongside his two co-accused, Wiseman Mageba, 47, and Aubrey Dlamini, 31, from the Manguzi area in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The three were arrested during a police sting operation following undercover work by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, commonly known as the Hawks, in December 2014.
The trial follows numerous adjournments arising from changes in the accused’s legal team, magistrates being replaced and senior State prosecutor Yuri Gangai being removed from the matter.
Gangai was due to bring an application for the recusal of magistrate K Shandu, who was presiding over the matter at the time. He was replaced as prosecutor on the eve of bringing the application.
It has not yet been publicly disclosed who will preside over Gwala’s trial, which is likely to generate international interest.
Gwala’s attorney, Mpume Linda, said she could not understand the huge public interest in the case.
“I’m receiving about 10 e-mails a day and a number of calls. I don’t know why there is such great interest.”
In October, wildlife activist Jamie Joseph of the environmental organisation Saving the Wild published the “Blood Rhino Blacklist” which lifted the lid on an alleged rhino poaching syndicate that included magistrates, prosecutors and police.
Joseph has claimed that delays in the trial and the removal of Gangai as a prosecutor had formed part of a political cover-up.
Last month, she wrote an open letter, endorsed by people such as Sir Richard Branson and local musician Vusi Mahlasela, to the South African government, calling for action against the syndicate.
“Since Gwala was arrested, his case as been marred by delay tactics. I’ve spent many mornings at court appearances and watched how his legal representatives comes up with the most ridiculous of excuses for delays,” said Joseph.
Earlier this month, the Magistrates Commission con-firmed it was investigating allegations that a crooked cabal of magistrates, prosecutors and police had been paid to defeat the ends of justice in key rhino poaching cases.
Joseph has welcomed the Magistrates Commission’s investigation and believes the State has a strong against Gwala.
“I believe the state has worked hard and we heading for a fair trial.”
Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux, a former policeman who led the Hawks team that arrested Gwala and his accomplices in 2014, is a likely witness in the trial.
Van Zyl-Roux submitted an affidavit to Durban High Court Judge Esther Steyn in a matter where the Asset Forfeiture Unit brought a successful application in 2016 to seize Gwala’s possessions.
Items confiscated included R110000 in cash, a bakkie and a BMW motor car.
In his affidavit, Van Zyl-Roux said his team had established that Gwala had been looking for a person to supply him with horns. An undercover policeman joined the syndicate by posing as a supplier.
Van Zyl-Roux said Gwala would boast to the undercover policeman about having buyers in Johannesburg and Mozambique and that he could net as much as R13million from a visit to his customers with a large consignment of rhino horns.
After two deals between Gwala and the policeman, Gwala was arrested in a sting operation in which an undercover policeman jumped out of the boot of a car when the third deal was clinched.
Gwala put up a fight and attempted to reverse over the policeman and ram him against a wall.
Gwala was shot in the leg.
When van Zyl-Roux sped to the scene, he asked Gwala to stop his car but was ignored.
Van Zyl-Roux managed to pull the keys out of the ignition. A bleeding Gwala was removed from the car, but he continued to fight with police, says the affidavit.
Following his arrest, Gwala and his two co-accused were charged with 10 counts relating to the illegal purchase and possession of rhino horn and of resisting arrest.