Mbombela - A father and son were among three Mozambicans who were on Thursday jailed for 10 years each for killing and removing the horns of a white rhino in the Kruger National Park.
January Ngobeni, 45, Phineas Mathebula, 51, and his son, Ezekiel, 22, from Massinga in Mozambique, were sentenced in the Nelspruit Regional Court.
The three were arrested by Kruger Park rangers on August 15 and found in possession of two white rhino horns, and a .45 magnum rifle and two live rounds of ammunition.
They pleaded guilty to entering South Africa without valid documents, trespassing in the Kruger Park, illegal hunting, and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.
In a plea statement, the three said they understood the charges and pleaded freely and voluntarily.
They told the court that a man from Massinga hired them to kill rhinos in exchange for a lot of money once the job was done. They said the man provided the rifle.
Prosecutor Isbet Erwee accepted their plea and congratulated them for not wasting the court's time.
"The court should send a clear message to others awaiting trial that if they plead guilty, the court will have mercy on them," she said.
Magistrate Willie Wilkins said the court was satisfied that the three accused pleaded guilty.
"You came from Mozambique... Others came from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria. Because there are no rhino left in your country, now you enter South Africa," he said.
Wilkins said the total number of rhino killed in South Africa so far this year stood at 719.
"There will be no rhinos left if this illegal hunting is not stopped."
Wilkins said on Wednesday night China announced that all people found with rhino horns would receive life sentences, and South Africa should follow suit.
He sentenced each of them to a total of 20 years and nine months in jail.
"In view of your plea, four of the sentences will run concurrently with the charge of illegal hunting, meaning you will serve 10 years in prison," said Wilkins.