Mpuma suspected poacher in court

By Drum Digital
25 March 2013

A man accused of killing and dehorning a white rhino told the Nelspruit Regional Court on Monday he had been framed.

A Sapa correspondent reported that Mozambican national Abel Mfana Mashabane, 25, was not asked to plead to charges of malicious damage to property and theft of a rhino horn.

Mashabane was arrested by rangers while walking with two friends at Houtboschrand in the Kruger National Park on May 17 last year.

"I have no idea how and when the rangers hunted and dehorned the rhino, but [the horn] does not belong to me," Mashabane testified.

He said that after he and his friends came across the rangers inside the park, shots were fired at them.

"I got shot and fell to the ground. My friends ran and I saw one of them falling to the ground after being shot at by the rangers. Other rangers began assaulting me, accusing me of owning the rhino horn which I suspect was brought by them and was planted in my bag," he said.

The court heard that the rangers patrolling the park saw the accused and two other men trying to cross into Mozambique with a bag containing a rhino horn before there was an exchange of gunfire.

The court also heard that the horn had a street value of R250,000.

Prosecutor Isbet Erwee, said the accused did not dispute being the owner of the rhino horn when the rangers gave their testimony in court.

"I put it to you that the rangers' task is not to kill the rhino, but to protect them from poachers. I put it to you that you were the one responsible for killing and dehorning the white rhino. The pink red meat and blood meant it was still fresh," Erwee said.

Mashabane continued to deny that he knew about the horn in the bag.

"I have no idea whether the rangers were there to protect the rhino or not," he said.

"What I can say is that they hunted the rhino, killed it, dehorned it, and brought the horn and put it inside my bag.

"I suspect them although I did not see them go away to do it."

Mashabane further testified that the rangers also accused him of being in possession of a firearm.

"I never had a firearm in my possession when they found me," he said.

Erwee said Mashabane was lying.

"The firearm was not found after one of your friends who managed to flee took it with him into Mozambique.

"You and your two friends were stopped by the rangers while you were taking the horn to sell in your country and make a lot of money," Erwee told him.

Mashabane replied: "I do not agree and don't know about that."

The charge relating to damage of property was not explained or brought up in court on Monday.

Magistrate Shirley Msibi postponed the case to May 10 for a verdict.

-by Sapa

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