By Martina Polley
Community members from the Mbombela district in Mpumalanga condemned the high number of officials involved in rhino poaching, and called for heavier sentences to be applied to all public servants found guilty. This, at a public hearing of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on Friday attended by about 400 residents.
The hearing was one of a series intended to get broader public input into environmental issues, including rhino poaching.
The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Fundisile Mketeni gave an overview of the rhino poaching problem in South Africa and highlighted the escalation in rhinos killed over the last seven years.
Local businessman Dex Kotze expressed his concern at the news from Mketeni that the 227 rhino poaching arrests in 2014 were restricted to poachers only and no couriers, buyers, exporters or kingpins had been arrested.
“It is clear that targeting the foot soldiers from local communities while letting the kingpins go free, will not solve the poaching problem,” he said.
Since 2011, there have been 151 cases finalised involving 290 accused, of which 181 were convicted. This is an acceptable conviction rate on the face of it; however a different picture emerges when these results are compared to official SANParks statistics.
The organisation recorded 1164 arrests since 2010. The figures may not be directly comparable but it is clear only a small percentage of those arrested actually appeared in court, and fewer still were convicted.
This appears to confirm persistent rumours that prosecutors only bring to court those cases which are likely to result in convictions.
One public participant made a comment that after she heard of a rhino poacher being given a 77-year prison sentence, she decided to put a stop to her rhino poaching activities and going back to being a hawker.