Rhino killer gets 7 years

2008-10-29 00:00

Being a traditional healer is not a “licence to kill” wildlife, a Camperdown regional court magistrate told 51-year-old Thembitshe Xaba, who pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally hunting a white rhinoceros at Nagle Dam in 2006.

He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, of which three years were conditionally suspended for five years, for poaching the female white rhino.

He also pleaded guilty to a string of other contraventions of the Natal Nature Conservation Ordinance and firearms legislation.

In terms of a plea bargain agreement, Xaba was handed sentences totalling 23 years and 23 months by regional magistrate Jan Venter. But with some parts of the sentences ordered to run concurrently or suspended, he will serve an effective seven years.

His co-accused, Bhekisisa Nzama (19), a scholar, was given a wholly suspended sentence of five years’ imprisonment on a lesser charge of possessing and handling the white rhino horn concerned.

Nzama admitted that during August 2006 he was approached by Xaba who told him that he had shot a rhinoceros and needed his help in skinning the animal.

Nzama and Xaba removed the two horns and foot of the rhino. He said Xaba kept the large horn and the foot and gave the small rhino horn to him. Nzama said he sold the horn for R400.

Sentencing him, Venter said the court had thrown him a lifeline by giving him a suspended sentence, but said he must “go out and inform the community and the public not to do what you have done”.

Venter said he believed the effective sentence of seven years’ imprisonment imposed on Xaba might “err on the lenient side”, but said the court took into account the fact that the state had accepted his pleas and statement.

“What the court has to bear in mind is that you are wrecking our heritage … our wildlife through your crimes,” he said.

He said a loud and clear message must go out that the poaching of wild animals will be stopped, and that these crimes will attract heavy penalties.

“The court knows that traditional healers use natural ingredients for whatever they do, but that doesn’t give you a licence to kill our wildlife,” he said.

State advocate Dalene Barnard referred in her address to the recent slaughter of 12 rhino in KwaZulu-Natal’s game reserves from January this year and said the increase in rhino poaching is “alarming”.

In his statement to court, Xaba said he decided in August 2006 to hunt a white rhino owned by Msinsi Holdings at the Nagle Dam Game Reserve. He armed himself with an unlicensed ,303 rifle and proceeded to the reserve where he shot and killed the female white rhinoceros. After killing the animal he approached his son, Salebusa (against whom charges were withdrawn), and Nzama. The three of them removed body parts including both horns and the front left foot.

He further admitted that during December 2006 he illegally hunted four reedbuck, a blue wildebeest, two bushbabies and two nyala, all protected species.

He also admitted having poached four bushbuck, which are in the category of “ordinary game”.

The same month he also killed two African rock pythons, a Nile monitor lizard and a leopard tortoise for use in his practice, and on December 20, 2006, he possessed a live leopard tortoise, which he was keeping in a cage at his homestead.

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