Poacher prosecutions, failings and corrective plans
Responding to comments that government corruption and a failure of law enforcement are major contributors to the steep decline in wild rhino populations in the Greater Kruger National Park, the National Prosecuting Authority head of communications, Bulelwa Makeke, said:
The NPA has already implemented corrective plans to enforce strict and effective follow-through needed to curtail our poaching epidemic.
A special focus is placed by the National Prosecuting Authority on the prosecution of rhinos and related matters in order to curb this growing transnational phenomenon. The enhanced focus resulted in a significant increase in the number of convictions and verdict cases finalised
In one matter, three SAPS officials are indicted and both these matters relate to poaching and other related offences emanating from the Kruger National Park. In addition, countrywide from 2016 to 2021 the NPA successfully finalised 264 rhino related prosecutions in which 244 persons were convicted. most of these convictions emanate from the Skukuza court, which is the result of the integrated work of the law enforcement agencies, including the police, the Hawks, SANParks, the Environmental Management Inspectorate or Green Scorpions and the NPA.
Statistics kept by the NPA indicate that for the period of 2021 Skukuza Court consistently maintained a conviction rate of 100% from April 2021 – to April 2022, i.e. convictions were achieved in all 42 cases finalised with a verdict. In addition, the NPA has instituted two separate prosecutions in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA), in which corruption charges were preferred against the accused.
Skukuza Court is currently RSA’s only dedicated court and the sentences emanating from this court have been lauded and are some of the most severe sentences handed down in the country for rhino poaching. Notably, Skukuza Court sentenced an accused in March 2022 to an effective 25 years direct imprisonment on charges of hunting a rhino, trespassing, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, conspiracy to commit a crime and possession of a dangerous weapon.
In February 2022 the same court sentenced two accused to 19 years direct imprisonment on charges of hunting a rhino, trespassing, possessing an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, and illegal immigration. These sentences are the norm for Skukuza Court, corroborated by the sentence achieved in 2021, where an accused was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment on charges of contravention of the Immigration Act, possession of a firearm with intent to commit a crime, possession of an unlicensed firearm, possession of a dangerous weapon and the possession of 6 rhinoceros.
In another prosecution the accused was sentenced to 25 years direct imprisonment on charges of trespassing, illegal immigration, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of ammunition, illegal hunting and killing of rhino.
The NPA has been and will continue to prosecute rhino related matters with the vigour it deserves without any fear of favour.
In addition to the allocation of dedicated prosecutors and advocates, the NPA has enhanced training initiatives which have led to the development of highly skilled advocates who are dealing with these kinds of prosecutions within the Organised Crime units in the Director of Public Prosecutions divisions and in the regional courts in the country. – 11/04/2022