Alleged rhino poachers get bail

2010-09-22 12:50

Sighs of relief from family members filled the Musina Magistrates Court today, where 11 people accused of being part of an alleged rhino poaching ring were granted bail.

“Phew, ja, ja,” said one family member in the public gallery.

Another was heard saying, “yes”, in relief.

A daughter of one the accused, who would not give her name, tried to signal to her father as soon as bail was granted.

“I’m coming to that side,” she said to him as she tried to manoeuvre her way through bustling journalists and other family members.

As soon as bail was granted to the 11 – who have been linked to the deaths of hundreds of rhinos – they quickly made their way towards the holding cells, eager to escape the dock in which they were crammed in.

The case was postponed to April 11 next year.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the 11 people faced many charges.

“The accused are alleged to be part of a syndicate which operates around Polokwane, Modimolle and Musina, and have been involved in rhino poaching, killing, selling of the horns, as well as disposing of the carcasses of the rhinos,” NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said in a statement.

Game farmer Dawie Groenewald was released on R1 million bail and his wife Sariette on R100 000 bail.

Veterinarian Karel Toet was released on R50 000 bail, his wife Mariza on R20 000, and his colleague, veterinarian Manie du Plessis, also on R20 000.

The other accused, professional hunters Tielman Roos Erasmus, Dewald Gouws, Nardus Rossouw, Leon van der Merwe, and Jacobus Martinus Pronk were released on R20 000 bail each, and Paul Matomela on R5 000.

Their bail conditions included that they refrain from tampering with 32 rhinos currently on Groenewald’s game farm, Pragtig, in Musina.

They had to hand in their passports and identity documents and had to give the police a week’s notice if they wanted to leave the province.

After the courtroom had cleared, one of the accused was spotted speaking on his cellphone, busy trying to organise his bail money with a big smile on his face.

Photographers were allowed to take photographs in court, but not during proceedings, which were held in Afrikaans and Sotho.

Three photographers were detained in the morning for taking pictures of the accused while they were being loaded into a police van.

Sapa photographer Werner Beukes, Beeld photographer Herman Verwey and SABC cameraman Lewellyn Carstens were held for 45 minutes by the local station commander before provincial authorities intervened and they were released.

Stony-faced family members sat for almost two-and-a-half-hours in the public gallery, refusing to speak to the media before proceedings began.

Most of the male accused were dressed in khaki shirts and denims.

Sariette Groenewald was wearing a striped caftan, while the petite and attractive Mariza Toet was dressed in a black-and-white polka dot top with black pants. Her blonde hair was tied back.

Neither of the women tried to shy away from the cameras.

The NPA said the charges against the group ranged from “assault, defeating the ends of justice, fraud, corruption, malicious injury to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, contravention of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, No 10 of 2010 (Nemba), contravention in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, No 101 of 1965; as well as contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, No 121 of 1998.”

Wednesday, the day of their appearance, marked the first day of the World Wildlife Fund’s “Make a noise for rhino day” initiative in support of the country’s “rhino warriors” the men and women who risk their lives daily fighting gangs running the illegal rhino horn trade.

Apart from blowing vuvuzelas and tooting car hooters, the WWF encouraged people to make donations at www.wwf.org.za, which would be used to buy anti-poaching equipment for guards, including binoculars, radios, night-vision gear, body armour and tracking devices.

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