Alleged rhino poaching kingpin trial, and the danger of trolls
Today, 21 February, Dumisani Gwala, the alleged rhino poaching kingpin of Zululand, attempted to change his defense attorney for the seventh time, a worn-out delay tactic that had been working since his arrest in 2014 for attempted murder of a police officer and dealing in rhino horn.
Magistrate Zungu, presiding magistrate at Mtubatuba Court in Zululand, made it crystal clear to Gwala that his trial will start on 24 April 2019, and if his attorney is not present, he will represent himself. This wasn’t the first time she had said this, but no one could have be prepared for the bizarre appearance of self-proclaimed conservationist, Marianna Nicholson, who arrived as his “advocate” in November last year.
PHOTO ABOVE BY SAVING THE WILD: Dumisani Gwala leaves the court smiling smugly after Marianna Nicholson was excused from court following the discovery that Nicholson did not have the credentials to appear in Court and represent Gwala. Shortly after Nicholson was dismissed from Court, she was served with a harassment order by the police on behalf of Saving The Wild. Gwala, claiming he knew none of Nicholson’s intention to deceive the court, was thus able to delay his trial by many months as the procedure to secure a new lawyer had to once again begin.
Warning to the conservation community: a history of the harassment charges against Nicholson; trolling, slander, malicious lies.
In October 2017 Saving the Wild published two groundbreaking exposes:
2 October 2017 – ‘Rhino Massacres: Can Ezemvelo handle the truth?’ – revealing gross corruption inside Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) in Zululand. And then on 28 October 2017 we published ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’, revealing an alleged KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) syndicate of magistrates and lawyers.
Rewind one year prior to that, and following the September 2016 World Rhino Day massacre at HiP, a ‘Rhino Crime Combatting Task Team’ was formed with the mandate to fully investigate the poaching crisis in KZN. This team was namely John Wills (Special advisor to the Premier of KZN), Chris Van Heerden (Van Heerden Attorneys), and Frank Dutton – the current lead investigator for the commission of inquiry into South Africa’s State Capture. In July 2017, I had a two and a half hour meeting with all three men at HiP, and they were well aware of a lot of the corruption within Ezemvelo, and were planning on publishing an explosive report which should have been made available to the public as it was paid for by tax payer money. However, after all these years, and another 400+ butchered rhinos, the report has still NOT been released – and if the press would like to know why, they should ask John Wills and KwaZulu Natal MEC Sihle Zikalala.
On a positive note, the people Saving the Wild exposed have been “shifted” from the reserve, and poaching in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park started to decline following their exit.
The ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’ is an ongoing saga that has captured the attention of the world. Saving the Wild’s three year grueling battle for justice was rewarded with the suspension of KwaZulu Natal Regional Court President Eric Nzimande on 5 October last year. The crooked cabal of magistrates have been disempowered, and now we await the findings of the Magistrates Commission, and criminal charges must follow if justice is seen to be done.
A few weeks after our October 2017 exposes were released, a senior member of Ezemvelo who we exposed, messaged a ranger who he worked with, and warned him gleefully that an attack on Saving the Wild was about to begin. Moments later, a Facebook page with the word ‘RHINO’ in it posted a malicious story insinuating alleged rhino poaching kingpin Dumisani Gwala, and allegedly corrupt justice officials, had been targeted by Saving the Wild and unfairly picked on by us.
The author of this page (we shall call her blah-blah-blah as she thrives on attention) went on to say: “If you click on the photographs you will find comments from a lady called Marianna. She is an Advocate with 30 years experience. I do not ever just write anything. Everything is carefully considered and checked.”
Following this Facebook post, two troll accounts were created on Twitter, and they began attacking not just Saving the Wild, but some of the finest police and anti poaching officers who deserve medals not slander; heroes of the highest order. The trolls tagged countless journalists, conservation organizations, and anyone they could think of in the Saving the Wild network. At the start, 15 months ago, they might have spurred a seed of doubt (and none of us ever dared respond to trolling), but ultimately, their only accomplishment was to waste a lot of time and energy.
If a social media “wildlife advocacy” account has to hide their identity, it is because they have something to hide. Trolls thrive on spreading conspiracy theories and trying to hurt others.
Nicholson however, brazenly left a trail of evidence of harassment as she voraciously retweeted the trolls malicious lies using her name, and included her own absurd comments as a way of introduction. She even went so far as to harass Saving the Wild and our lawyer on email with such venom and outlandish accusations, it was certainly not the behaviour one would expect from an “Advocate with 30 years experience”.
Nicholson was warned many times to stop contacting us. Eventually we had our chance to respond when the police served her with harassment papers after she attempted to falsely represent Gwala in November last year. Unfortunately, her partner in sabotage, ‘blah-blah-blah’, did not show up.
This very small, poisonous click of self-proclaimed conservationists are nothing but gullible pawns to the criminal and corrupt. They get fed a pack of lies by people we have exposed, and they will never stop spreading these lies, no matter how much proof is presented to them in the way of the BBC documentary ‘Rhinos: Killing and Corruption’ featuring whistleblower ‘Fresh’, or the expose by award winning journalist Sam Sole, which clearly shows magistrates wiring money into (now suspended) Court President Nzimande’s bank account – of which two acting magistrates, Ngwenya and Linda, previously represented Gwala as his attorney. In fact, Ngwenya was an acting magistrate at the same time he was representing Gwala, which is ethically unacceptable.
READ: Corruption in the courtroom: A sordid tale of sex, gambling, poachers and payoffs
The problem with fanatics is that they cannot be reasoned with. Some are simply sinister, while others actually believe they are on a crusade to save the rhinos from the bad guys who are pretending to be good. It’s pathetic.
The downside of all of this nearly 16 month smear campaign (so far) is that these fanatics have the ability to waste time – time that rhinos don’t have – such as the delay with Gwala’s trial in November when we were at the point of starting the very next day with Gwala being forced to represent himself.
In fact, the driving person behind the trolling (blah blah blah) has even gone so far as to make a false affidavit claiming intimidation and other such nonsense, while we all concerned continue to avoid her like a plague. Our only hope is that she is arrogant enough to go public with her conspiracy theories so that our lawyers can finish this once and for all. Journalists will never pander to her accusations, but social media is a free world, and a cesspit at times.
If something is worth saying, you put your name to it. You have courage for your convictions. I personally would like to thank my mentors for their counsel through this difficult time. They all agreed: Never look at the trolling, and never ever give trolls the limelight by naming them, because they feed off the attention.
Cautionary advice to the conservation community: just because a social media account has the word ‘rhino’ or ‘wild’ in it does not make them conservationists. Do your homework, and be very careful who you follow and what news you share, because you might be supporting poaching syndicates.
There are many excellent organizations ACTIVELY working in the rhino crisis; they have the RESPECT of the rangers and vets they support, and their input is measurable. Follow these organizations, support them, and the work will speak for itself.
Photo credit: Thomas D. Mangelsen | Saving the Wild Collection in support of Saving the Survivors
Saving the Wild’s legal team is the official legal watching brief on the Dumisani Gwala case. Transcript of today’s court proceedings to be posted to social media shortly, and sent to journalists on request. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And a huge shout out to the State for putting up one helluva fight in court today. You were all magnificent, and we are so proud of you. The wheels of justice are turning now!
“So when you are kicked and criticized, remember that it is often done because it gives the kicker a feeling of importance. It often means that you are accomplishing something and are worthy of attention. Many people get a sense of savage satisfaction out of denouncing those who are better educated than they are or more successful.”
– Dale Carnegie