By Zenzele Ndebele
More than 100 elephants have now died from cyanide poisoning in Zimbabwe’s vast Hwange National Park – and more carcasses are still being discovered in the bush. It is a shocking story.
But what is even more shocking is how the authorities have reacted – by targeting the San living outside the park, who have accused game-rangers and the police of brutal harassment following the poisoning of the park’s waterholes. And how little local or international attention has been focussed on the plight of the San – as opposed to the fate of the unfortunate elephants.
Take for example Linah Tshuma’s son, Dedani. Employed as a domestic worker at the time of the poisoning, he was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison with an additional fine of US$200,000 after being convicted of involvement in the elephant slaughter.
“We are victims of poverty. My son is in jail because we are poor people,” said Linah, who is adamant that her son was treated unfairly. “I don’t know what happened but he was employed by a businessman, who I believe was the one dealing in ivory because he is on the run.”
Linah says what pains her most is that her son was sentenced within a few days of his arrest in a remarkably swift legal process, yet those who were arrested for supplying the cyanide – including the manager of the company that provided the poison, who has been charged with contravening some sections of the Environmental Management Act – were given US$100 bail.
“I don’t even have a single cent to go and visit my son in prison and I hear the police beat him and one of his eyes was bleeding,” said Linah, with tears welling up in her eyes. “His friends also told me his private parts were burnt.”
She accuses law enforcement agents of targeting the San, who are poor, while letting the rich – the real beneficiaries of ivory poaching – go. More....