Rhino poachers, rapists, and the blood money trial of Dumisani Gwala

In the war on rhino, Saving the Wild leads the crusade against corruption. Our mandate is to fight organized crime, expose and eradicate corruption.

By Jamie Joseph, Director of Saving the Wild

This story needs urgent exposure. No pressure = no result. A rhino syndicate trial continues this week. I need you to imagine a country where thugs become judges and magistrates and prosecutors, drunk on power, and the blood money from rapists and rhino poachers fuels their lifestyle. 

This is organized crime that has infiltrated the sanctity of the courts – the rotten chunk of South Africa’s justice system, and it is bringing dishonour to the many good people who have made the pursuit of justice their life’s work.

Unfolding is the Blood Rhino Blacklist I have been exposing since the start of 2016, and it began with the case of Dumisani Gwala, the alleged rhino poaching kingpin of Zululand. Gwala was arrested in December 2014 for attempted murder of a police officer and dealing in rhino horn. Zululand is home to the highest density of rhinos in the world, and has become a graveyard to this iconic species, as the onslaught continues for a horn that nobody needs. 

We are at the tipping point between extinction and a revolution.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton. Zululand.

Further investigation into Gwala’s notorious defence attorney, ZW Ngwenya, led Saving the Wild to a crooked cabal of justice officials. This included magistrates that allegedly received bribes in exchange for taking it easy on Gwala.

And then there is another level, where magistrates have allegedly been paying for their positions. And redirected Saving the Wild’s investigations to the top of the rot: Eric Nzimande.

Parliament suspended Court President Nzimande in October 2018 – with so much media pressure at the time they really had no choice. Now, 16 months later, this has all proven to be lip service for the spotlight. 

The trial of Dumisani Gwala is set to continue between 4 and 14 February, and we have been warned more sabotage is on the way.

This time the spotlight on the trial needs to be so bright that the state will have no choice but to push for a fair trial and no further delays. Gwala is the master of delay tactics, with at least nine lawyer changes and more than 30 postponements. 

If justice does not prevail in the trial of Gwala – the centre of the court corruption storm – then the crimes against humanity that have been buried in this investigation will forever stay buried.

So far only a few cases have come to light, such as the case of the man who raped his 11-year-old daughter. The magistrate who described the rapist as a “loving father” was chosen by Nzimande. The corrupt justice officials must fall like dominoes, or they will not fall at all. 

Saving the Wild is asking people of influence to please, for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of a species that survived the ice age but is now tumbling into extinction, to speak out against the corruption in South Africa’s courts.

Saving the Wild champion Dr Jane Goodall. Photo credit: Thomas D. Mangelsen.

How many years does it take to dismiss a state employee, or arrest a magistrate or lawyer for corruption or racketeering? How many more children must be raped, and how many more rhinos must be butchered before words become action and the law starts acting as a deterrent?


Jamie Joseph kneels beside Thuli Madonsela, joined by Zululand supporters, April 2016.



Both Gwala’s current defence attorney Mr ZW Ngwenya, and his previous defence attorney Miss Mpume Linda, were chosen by suspended Court President Nzimande as acting magistrates, even though they had neither the integrity nor the experience. The Magistrates Commission Draft Reportdiscloses payments that both Ngwenya and Linda allegedly made into Nzimande’s bank account. 

The investigation began in 2015, and no serious action has been taken against any of the magistrates and acting magistrates who allegedly paid for their positions. See ‘Further reading by Sam Sole’ at the end of this story.

Gwala walks past his lawyer Ngwenya sporting a neck tie with a $100 bank note.
Read the article by Tony Carnie on TimesLive – April 2019. Photo credit: Jamie Joseph.

Saving the Wild has reliable information that the most recent police IO is on Gwala’s payroll. We handed over information to the state, and it was brushed off. None of this surprises us. At the start of 2018 we handed over reliable information to Crime Intelligence, which would have likely resulted in Gwala being arrested again. Crime Intelligence refused to act on the information. Ngwenya has in the past represented a certain crime intelligence officer, an associate of Gwala according to a sworn police affidavit, and the officer was caught red handed stealing rhino horns from poachers in an undercover police sting operation. The magistrate, who has let off many poachers with a lenient fine, acquitted the crime intelligence officer, claiming the undercover police officers made it up. 

If it were not for Saving the Wild’s legal team, the attempted murder charge of a policeman would have been dropped for no other reason than the male Zululand prosecutor – there are four prosecutors in total perhaps to make it difficult to cast blame – claimed he could not see the statement from the task force member. And yet it was right there in front of him, in the docket. This prosecutor is either suffering from some sort of peculiar blindness, or he is working with Gwala, or he is grossly incompetent. Whatever the reason, he should not be a prosecutor on this case. 

Chief Prosecutor Philile Sibeko, Zululand 
I have been in the room when Ms Sibeko said she would not allow Gwala’s court circus to continue. It was November 2018, the day Gwala’s “lawyer” at the time, Marianna Nicholson, turned out to be a fake. Sibeko made a firm stand, saying she would be prosecuting Nicholson for impersonating an advocate. To the best of our knowledge, that never happened. In the meantime, Saving the Wild continues to fund legal watching briefs and we continue to have eyes in the court.


COURT [Addressing Gwala] Phone your attorney. Trial will start today. I am going to report her (Miss Mpume Linda) to the law society. She was the same attorney that withdrew at Ngwelezane and came to this court placing herself on record. The matter will stand down. She must come to court. You (Gwala) must engage with your attorney. 

The above quote by The Court was from the November 2018 transcript. Result: Trial never did start that day. Trial eventually started in April 2019, and it’s moved at a glacial pace, to the point that the first witness is yet to be cross examined. Even worse, we seriously doubt The Court ever reported Linda to the Law Society. It is February 2020 and she continues to represent Gwala’s co-accused and delay trial with excuses that include her claiming she has a headache, or she has sore feet. We have lost track how many times Linda has withdrawn as Gwala’s attorney, and then re-appeared, resulting in years of delays.

Lastly, Maxim Chirwa, an associate of Dumisani Gwala, is trying to have me arrested on trumped up charges of intimidation because I published his photograph. Well here it is again: the photograph of Chirwa accosting me outside of Mtubatuba Court in April 2019. 

Read: Rhino syndicate trial marred by hooligan lawyers

I was backed up against a police van, while the policemen in the van sat back and did nothing to assist me and my close protection officer. When I was finally able to enter the courthouse, I was accosted by both Gwala’s lawyers Ngwenya (current) and Linda (previous), screaming at the top of their voices. The police did nothing to bring order to the courthouse.

At the time I had no idea who the unidentified raging man was, but now that I know his identity, I am certainly not going to quiver at his threats. Chirwa’s police charge sheet reads like a hitman. Many times, he has stood trial for murder, but he is always found not guilty by a Manguzi magistrate – Manguzi is the notorious town where Gwala lives – about 19 kilometres from the border of Mozambique – a trafficking hub for drugs and wildlife parts. 

The cesspit of corruption, and the total lack of political will to fire and arrest corrupt justice officials, is driving the Gwala trial into the ground. I have done everything possible to keep this trial on track, but I am just one activist, and my reach is limited.

If more globally influential people do not start speaking out against corruption – the number one factor enabling rhino poaching – then it does not matter what they say or how famous they are, nice words will not save the rhino. Because if we lose the war on corruption, we lose the war on everything.


Alleged rhino horn poaching kingpin in court

DURBAN: Former Hawks detective, Jean Pierre van Zyl Roux, is the State’s key witness in a rhino poaching trial that is due to resume at the Mtubatuba Regional Court on Tuesday.

Roux arrested Dumisani Gwala, who allegedly is a kingpin in a rhino poaching syndicate that has a strong presence in KwaZulu Natal, during a 2014 sting operation he led in Manguzi, an area near the Mozambique border.

Read full story on iol.co.za

Thank you to our champions who got behind our April 2018 ‘Justice for Rhinos – Justice for Zululand’ Open Letter. We have won many battles, but now the final battle is upon us. Please, raise your voices, and let’s rise and rise again, until lambs become lions.

Rockets, and the ‘AfroCoustic’ artists, South Africa
Vusi Mahlasela | ‘The Voice’ of South Africa, human rights activist
Dave Matthews | South African born/American artist and conservationist
Helen Clark | UNDP Administrator (2009-2017), New Zealand Prime Minister (1999–2008)
Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace
Leona Lewis | British artist, animal welfare campaigner
Sir Richard Branson | British entrepreneur (Virgin Founder) and conservationist
AKA | South African artist
Da L.E.S. | South African artist
Zulu Princess Latoya Buthelezi aka Toya Delazy, UNICEF ambassador

Jamie Joseph and Sharks Rugby players – Zululand

Leona Lewis, 4 February 2020. British singer, songwriter, actress, and activist.

“We can’t just keep letting these people get away with wildlife crime.”
-Paul Hilton, conservation photographer | 4 February 2020.

FURTHER READING BY AWARD WINNING JOURNALIST SAM SOLE: Corruption in the courtroom: A sordid tale of sex, gambling, poachers and payoffs | September 2018

In summary, Nzimande is suspected of offering acting magistrate positions in the regional courts in exchange for cash, which he seemingly needed to feed a gambling habit.

Worse, it appears he enabled – directly or indirectly – the formation of a network of judicial officers who are allegedly using their position to pervert justice on behalf of criminals.

In particular, Nzimande’s alleged patronage network appears to overlap partially with a group of court officials in northern KwaZulu-Natal who are alleged to have taken bribes – particularly around poaching cases, although, as we shall see, this was exposed because of a rape case.

The Rhino ring

It is clear that as Swart pursued her investigation, she became aware that some of those who had paid money into Nzimande’s account were connected to a series of poaching cases in northern KwaZulu-Natal – including the controversial matter of alleged poaching kingpin Dumisani Gwala.

Gwala was arrested in December 2014 after an eight-month intelligence-driven operation in which he was sold rhino horn by undercover cops. When they tried to arrest him Gwala put up a fight, attempted to drive over a policeman and was shot in the leg.

Attorney ZW Ngwenya (Gwala’s current defence attorney)

The man at the centre of these allegations is attorney Welcome Ngwenya, who also served stints as an acting magistrate – seemingly courtesy of Nzimande.

The draft report discloses five payments Ngwenya allegedly made into Nzimande’s bank account between December 2013 and December 2014…

Attorney Mpume Linda (Gwala’s previous defence attorney)

Swart’s draft report notes that Linda made a XXXXX payment into Nzimande’s account on February 7 2015 after she had been appointed for a three-month stint as an acting magistrate in the sexual offences court.

Swart notes: “I notice although she was in the sexual offences court she dealt with two corruption matters, one that includes money laundering… In case [XXX] all the accused was found not guilty… A certain attorney by the name of [SS] appeared for one [of] the accused. A payment was made into Mr Nzimande’s bank account by a [SS]. This specific payment has not yet been investigated.”

The draft report also notes that Linda appeared as the defence attorney on September 5 2016 in a rhino poaching matter that “was the same case that Mr Ngwenya appeared in when he was an acting Regional court magistrate in Pietermaritzburg”.

READ the full expose by Sam Sole on News24.