In September 2010, Dawie Groenwewald and veterinary surgeons, drs Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis, appeared in court on 1872 counts of racketeering, a case which is still pending. The joint security forces, including the Endangered Species of the Hawks, the NPA, the Asset Forfieture Unit, department of environmental affairs and the curators, seized the suspects' assets, which value in the region of R55 million. These are believed to have been acquired through criminal activities, particularly rhino poaching.
The seizure and preservation of such assets are allowed in terms of the Proceeds of Crime Act until the court case is finalised. On conviction of an accused, the seizure is realized and these proceeds are then used to continue with the combating of crime.
The joint security forces, which also include the SAPS, SANDF and SANParks, arrested 99 suspected rhino poachers since January this year. The following is a brief outline of some of these cases.
A Zimbabwean citizen, Rogers Mukwene, was arrested for the illegal possession of three rhino horns in Kameeldrift, Pretoria. During the investigation it became known that he is a convicted rhino poacher in Zimbabwe. The rhino horns were traced to a poaching incident at Dinaka Game Reserve in the Mookgopane district two weeks prior to his arrest. Mukwene’s brother was arrested for bribery, after he offered to pay the investigation officer R10 000-00 for the release of Mukwene on bail.
Thabazimbi, Limpopo: The police arrested Lucas Malema and Lucas Novela for attempting to poach rhino on a game farm. They were found in possession of a 375 hunting rifle as well as a 9mm pistol.
Assen, North West: Manual Simango, Lucky Baloyi, Andries Mhlanga, Mr Ratshivhombelia, Deon Nkozi were arrested for the illegal possession of a 5,57 firearm and two vehicles were recovered while they were attempting to poach rhino on a game farm.
Upington, Northern Cape : Than Dolwetu Nicolas Mduduma appeared in court for the illegal possession of rhino horn. Vaalwater, Limpopo: The police arrested Bandam Manyaradzi (Zimbabwean), Goodman Molambo (Zimbabwean) and Oupa Jan Majadibodu for conspiracy to illegally hunt rhinos, the theft of a firearm and a two-way police radio, unlawful possession of a firearm, ammunition and dangerous weapons.
In Beestekraal, North West Province: Lucky Selepe, Manhique Eliasse Themba, Manyeka (Mozambican), Mathussi Alberto John (Mozambican) were arrested for attempting to hunt rhino on a game farm. The police recovered a .3006 rifle, four rounds and an axe.
Masoyi, Mpumalanga: William Lakote, William Shabone and Isaac Fakude and Ciswe Ngobe were arrested for attempting to hunt rhino in the Kruger National Park (KNP). One firearm was recovered.
Mhala, Mpumalanga: Jeffrey Hlabana was arrested and one firearm recovered when he attempted to hunt rhino in the KNP.
Kabokwene, Mpumalanga: Elvis Tulani Nonyani and Tholi Jordaan Ndlovu were arrested. They had a LM5 (223) rifle and 25 rounds in their attempt to hunt rhino in Kruger.
Klaserie, Limpopo: The police arrested Happy Solomon Nyathi, Dlaweleni Joseph Nyalungu and Mafanyani Mario Helton Sibia and confiscated their 375 firearm, which they used while attempting to hunt rhino on a game farm.
Manyaleti, Limpopo: Abraham Given Nyathi, Dennis Oros Makhubela and Jimmy Mkansi were arrested while attempting to hunt rhino on a game farm. The police confiscated a .303 rifle, bow saw and butcher's knife.
Assen, North West: Alex Nyatlo, Karaboe Phetoe, Zola Ngijima, Nduduzi Khanile and Lebitia Japie Sedie were arrested while attempting to hunt rhino on a game farm.
Pretoriuskop, Mpumalanga: Abrey Mnisi and Pride Nkuna were arrested. They used a .3006 rifle while attempting to hunt rhino in Kruger.
Sabie Sands, Mpumalanga: The police arrested Moosa Hlanane, Proby Nyathi, Devine Nyathi and Sam Mlotshwa while trying to hunt rhino on the game reserve.
Pretoriuskop, Mpumalanga: Duncan Solomon Mnisi, Doctor Mbuso Ngwenyama, Charles Heartered Mabunda and Tiyani Mabunda were arrested for the illegal hunting of rhino in the KNP. This was a highly publicized case as all four were SANParks employees. Bail was eventually denied to all four.
Kempton Park, Gauteng: The police arrested Hui Chen for the illegal possession of rhino horn, elephant ivory curios and hippo tusk to the value of R 30 000.
Kempton Park, Gauteng: QiFeng Chen and Han Ji Gui were arrested for dealing in rhino horns in Kempton Park.
The police arrested a notorious suspect of an alleged rhino poaching syndicate, Joseph Nyalunga, as well as eight other suspects, on March 2 outside Hazyview, near the KNP. They confiscated more than R5million in cash from his house in Mhala. Firearms, knives and vehicles were also seized from the suspects.
The Hawks disrupted a Chines syndicate active with illegal rhino horn trade in the Bruma Lake area. Four Chinese nationals were arrested and charges of racketeering are being brought against them. The value of their operation is estimated at R 3 million. The accused are still in custody.
Towards the middle of March all Interpol countries conducted an operation to curb rhino horn smuggling. In South Africa the Hawks, Interpol, the National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit, the department of environmental affairs, NPA, NATJOINTS and SARS inspected taxidermists, freight agencies, airports, borders, game farms and conducted road blocks and searches at key areas. This resulted in the arrest of Kevin Cooper for the illegal possession of 15 rhino horns and six elephant tusks. 15 homesteads in the Mkuze, Ulundi, Mahlabatini, Melmoth and Ubombo areas that were linked to rhino poachers were searched. R500 000-00 worth of wildlife products and eight firearms were seized while eight suspects arrested.
In Bethlehem, Free State: Nicolaas Erasmus, Benjamin Coetzee and Stephanus Fourie were arrested for the illegal dealing in two rhino horns. The matter was postponed to May 2012.
In Hoopstad, Free State: Christoffel Jacobus Lombard, Eugine Petrus van der Merwe and William Theuns Jooste were arrested and charged for the possession of M99; Illegal entry upon land with a weapon; conspiracy to commit a restricted activity and fraud. The case was postponed to 25 May 2012 for further investigation.
"It is against this backdrop that we welcome the seizure of assets and call for assets of every person arrested to be scrutinized and where possible, seized," says Vishnu Naidoo - Colonel, spokeperson for the SAPS. "The seizure of the assets of rhino poaching accused is what we believe will hurt the most."
To date this year, the Endangered Species Unit within the HAWKS have secured 10 convictions amounting to a consolidated total of 111 years imprisonment in respect of these 10 accused.
From February last year to March 2012, the courts convicted eight criminals for the illegal possession of rhino horn, four for dealing in rhino horn, and six for poaching rhinos. In eight of these cases were the accused fined, while the other 12 were sentenced to direct imprisonment without an option of a fine. Only seven accused had been acquitted during this period.
At present there are 57 cases on the court roll of which 161 suspects have been charged, while 65 of the accused are held in custody and 96 are on bail.