6 July 2018: “Bail Denied!” When this courageous three and a half hour judgement was passed on alleged rhino poaching kingpin Petrus Sydney Mabuza, aka “Mr Big”, a spooky silence descended on the court. The packed room of supporters simply stood up and walked out.
Mabuza turned to stone. The rhino conservation community celebrated a rare victory. It wasn’t to last. Ten days later, on July 16th, in a greased lighting turn of events, Acting High Court Judge Semenya and Assisting Acting High Court Judge Nemorati, granted Mabuza bail of R250 000 – that’s R30 000 less than what he “allegedly” paid for rhino horn on the day of his June 12th arrest; pocket change for a man like Mabuza. Well known poachers, drunk and high, celebrated on the streets of Hazyview last night. At Mabuza’s main residence they sang victory songs.
In this decade long savage hunt on South Africa’s rhino, the law has always been on the side of the criminals. There is no minimum sentence built into legislation for hunting of an endangered species, bail is customary, and police officers, magistrates and prosecutors have been bribed on multitudinous occasions to “make it all go away”. I know this as fact, I exposed the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’.
I arrived in Hazyview (population less than 5000) on 8 July, two days after Mabuza was initially denied bail, because I knew the Mabuza empire would not fall will the gavel of one brave magistrate.
This small town, on the outskirts of Kruger National Park, is home to “Mr Big” and his henchmen. I was there to follow up on leads. People spoke in whispers, as if the element of danger still lurked. Whether black or white, conservationist or criminal, every single one of them told me that both the Hazyview provincial police and the traffic police were on Mabuza’s payroll. All these years, the people of Hazyview have had no one to turn to, and there are spies everywhere.
Even on the day of his arrest, I was on the phone to JP Roux, Head of Investigations for Saving the Wild, and he had just managed to shake off traffic cops that would tail him the moment he approached one of Mabuza’s many lavish properties.
For years Mabuza has been throwing illegal parties which, according to someone in regular attendance, includes naked woman dancing on the tables, class A drugs on the bar dished out like canapes, and armed guards at the entrance.
Some of his neighbours have been forced to move. Last year a man was hijacked by a group of around 20 intoxicated hooligans attending the party. They attacked him, took his weapon, and stole his vehicle. Another resident was threatened and his motorcycle was stolen.
According to an employee of a Mpumalanga security company, “They throw huge parties and block off the streets. I was once able to drive pass Mabuza’s primary residence, the gate was open and I saw a man standing next to a red BMW with an automatic machine gun in his hand. But if you report anything to Hazyview police, they ignore it.”
Prior to the High Court granting Mabuza bail, he was being held in Nelspruit prison, and when he walked through the cells, the police officers would salute him. He was still king behind bars. From Skukuza to Hazyiew, Nelspruit to White River, his power stretches far and wide across the Mpumalanga province.
Saving the Wild assisted in the arrest of Mabuza. The buying of the horn took place in a vehicle stinking of blood money. In a debriefing, one of our informers explained to me how after Mabuza handed over the R280 000 for the rhino horns, he then escorted him and the undercover police agent to White River and boasted, “Don’t worry about a thing. Nothing will happen to you. I hold this town in my hand.”
And he was speaking the truth. The operation to arrest him that June 12th day was led by the Hawks Police from Pretoria, and they had gone to great lengths to exclude anyone from Mabuza territory.
Rewind to January 2017:
Four white rhino are shot in Kruger National Park by three poachers. Seven horns are removed. The eighth rear horn is left behind because the poachers suspect there is a transmitter embedded.
The next day, well known poachers Sydney Ngomane and Evans Madonsela are seen cleaning rhino horns at Mabuza’s Hazyview main residence on the corner of Drawers and Albatross. They are working under a thatched open roof in the garden.
Referring to Lowvelder’s story published online, January 21, 2017.
According to Const Duduzile Malibe, spokesman for Hazyview SAPS, information was received from an informant on Saturday morning that a vehicle with illegal arms was being driven around in Hazyview.
“This vehicle was stopped and searched by the White River K9 Unit, Crime Intelligence and the Tactical Response Unit but nothing was found. The K9 unit looked in the surrounding areas and discovered the cooler box. It was opened and the horns were found inside,” said Malibe.
No arrests were made.
Saving the Wild has since learned, according to a report by a source at the scene of the alleged crime, that when the Hazyview police arrived, Mabuza delayed them entering his property, while they chatted outside in his driveway.
During this timely delay, Sydney Ngomane and Evans Madonsela threw the horns into a red cooler box, and hopped over the wall using a ladder placed there for sudden exits. Six horns were finally “discovered” by the police.
According to this same source, there was a seventh horn – a gift for making this unexpected problem disappear – whisked away in a Ford Fiesta.
Saving the Wild can now confirm that the six rhino horns found next to Mabuza’s residence were sent to RhODIS for DNA testing. The rhino horns MATCH the four white rhino shot in Kruger National Park the day prior.
The poaching continued when, the following month, Evans Madonsela and Sydney Ngomane were subsequently arrested in Kruger National Park for possession of rhino horn, a rifle and axe. (CAS 25/02/2017) They refused bail, likely because they knew they were safer in jail than risking the wrath of Mabuza, who would suspect them of snitching. Rumours that Mabuza rules by the gun are rife, and he encourages it in his own poachers. I finally managed to get someone in Mabuza’s inner circle to open up to me, but not without the fear on consequence rising up through the pores in his skin.
“Sometimes these parties Mabuza throws are a celebration, when one of his poachers kills a rival poacher,” he said softly, sweat gleaning his face. “They ambush rival gangs coming out of Kruger, and then kill them and steal their horns. I’ve lost friends. The problem is once you’re in it, you can’t get out. They’ll kill you.”
What he says matches up with information from reliable sources coming out of Kruger.
“Some of the police are doing the same,” he quietly adds, clasping his hands tightly. “They sell horns to Mabuza.”
Poachers are killing rhinos. Poachers are killing poachers. Communities are being tormented and destroyed. Saving the Wild asks the South African Government to set Hazyview free from this lawlessness. We call on:
Minister of Police, General Bheki Cele.
appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Deputy Minister of Police, Bongani Mkongi.
Shadow Minister of Police, Dianne Kohler Barnard.
Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha.
Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery.
Shadow Minister of Justice, Glynnis Breytenbach.
As your duty to bring law and order to Hazyview, we ask for an investigation into alleged police corruption enabling rhino poaching and other high priority crimes. Because if we lose the war on corruption, we lose the war on everything.
This Saving the Wild story and call for action is dedicated to the extraordinary legacy of our Madiba, the late Nelson Mandela, who would have been 100 today. #BeTheLegacy :: 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013.