By Ingrid Oellermann
The first two women to be convicted in KwaZulu-Natal of conspiring to poach rhinos for their horns, are due to be sentenced in Ladysmith next month.
The two women, Confidence Angel Mlambo (32) and Nokwanda Trendy Khumalo (22), were convicted in the regional court on charges of jointly conspiring to illegally hunt rhino in Umsuluzi Game Reserve between Weenen and Colenso in April 2013
They were also found guilty of unlawful possession of a .303 rifle with telescopic sights.
The firearm was seized by police when they arrested the women.
The court found that Mlambo and Khumalo had acted with a common purpose to commit the crimes.
During the trial the court heard evidence that a police agent from Johannesburg set a trap for the women. He was asked by them to shoot a rhino in Umsuluzi Game Reserve for its horns, which were to be sold in Gauteng.
The women had provided the agent with a rifle with telescopic sights intended to be used to shoot the rhino. They had placed the rifle into the boot of his car and drove to Ladysmith with him, where they were arrested.
When the trial began in September last year, Mlambo admitted that she was involved in a plot to illegally hunt rhino in the Umsuluzi Game Reserve, but she alleged that Khumalo had instigated the plan, and provided the firearm that was to be used to kill the rhino. Mlambo alleged in evidence that Khumalo had asked her if she knew anyone who wanted to buy rhino horns, and she had then set about finding someone. This was denied by Khumalo who said she knew nothing about a plan to kill rhinos.
The case has now been postponed to August 18 for sentencing procedures. Both the state and the defence will have an opportunity to call witnesses in aggravation and mitigation of sentence.
In papers before the Pietermaritzburg high court last week national deputy director of public prosecutions attached to the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Kenneth Samuels, said rhino poaching in South Africa has reached alarming proportions.
Statistics revealed that in 2012 poachers had slaughtered a total of 668 rhinos for their horns.
The number of rhinos killed by poachers rose to 947 in 2013, and increased again to 1 215 during 2014.