Rhino syndicate trial marred by hooligan lawyers
Rhino poaching kingpin finally in the dock after 20 delays
24 April: Day 1 reporting by Tony Carnie of TimesLive.
After more than 20 delays to his trial, alleged Zululand rhino horn kingpin Dumisani Gwala has stepped into the dock for charges related to the epidemic butchery of rhinos in KwaZulu-Natal.
Gwala arrived at the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday in a white Mercedes after a local magistrate had signalled her displeasure over a series of lengthy delays to the start of a trial which has been marked by frequent changes to defence attorneys.
Gwala, currently represented by attorney Zwelonke Ngwenya who was sporting a neck-tie bearing the pattern of a US$100 bank note, pleaded not guilty to 12 charges relating to attempted murder; resisting arrest and either buying, possessing or attempting to trade rhino horns illegally.
His alleged accomplices, Wiseman Mageba and Aubrey Dlamini, have also pleaded not guilty to several charges of horn-trading or illegal possession charges dating back to 2014.
When the trial finally got under way this week, the first state witness said intelligence sources had fingered Gwala as the main target in an undercover police intelligence operation code-named “Project Racketeer”.
Read full story on TimesLive.
Gwala’s defense attorney Ngwenya wearing his $100 bank note tie with an unknown man beside him
Rhino syndicate trial marred by hooligan lawyers
25 April: Day 2 reporting by Jamie Joseph for Saving the Wild
“Gwala’s current lawyer Ngwenya, his previous lawyer Linda, and an unidentified raging man, ganged up on an Officer of the Court and screamed at her unabated like hooligans, their voices reverberating throughout the Mtubatuba Courthouse. This went on for a long time. The court police did nothing to stop it.”
I arrived at Mtubatuba Courthouse on Thursday 25 April around 8.20am. I saw a man dressed like a Traditional Healer (Sangoma), exiting the courthouse and carrying a stick in his right hand. It was the same man who was at Gwala’s February court appearance pacing the hallways and eyeballing Officers of the Court.
A few minutes later two Mercedes vehicles arrived, just as they had done the previous day. Gwala in one vehicle, and in the other vehicle was Gwala’s attorney Ngwenya, being driven by the same man who I had seen the day previously, bleating on to the press about resisting neo colonialism. Beside him was Ngwenya wearing his $100 bank note tie, boasting loudly to the journalists that he makes so much money, but he’s not corrupt. At first I didn’t recognize Ngwenya; I just thought it was a drunk man doing a jig like Zuma. (yes, he was dancing) But then I realized he was staring at me throughout his little show. And then I saw Miss Mpume Linda was also at court. I immediately warned my security detail that Ngwenya and Linda were at court, which was all very bizarre, and we made sure we kept a safe distance.
Both Ngwenya and Linda had previously represented Gwala, and then withdrawn, and both are currently under investigation for widespread allegations of corruption. Through Saving the Wild investigations already completed, we exposed what is known as the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’ – an alleged KwaZulu Natal Syndicate of corrupt justice officials who had for years been taking bribes on rape, rhino poaching and other horrendous crimes.
But Saving the Wild’s investigations was just one piece in the puzzle, and whilst we enabled whistleblower Fresh (assistant/nephew of Ngwenya) to hand himself in to the Hawks Police, the most damning evidence was in fact a Magistrates Commission Report with a very long bank trail that led to KZN Court President Eric Nzimande. All of this came out last year September in the shocking expose by Sam Sole, award winning investigative journalist for amaBhungane.
READ: Corruption in the courtroom: A sordid tale of sex, gambling, poachers and payoffs
Whistleblower ‘Fresh’ (nephew of Ngwenya) in an exclusive interview with BBC for the documentary ‘Rhinos: Killing and Corruption’ which premiered in August 2018
// TRANSCRIPT START
FRESH: I would give money to most of his (defense attorney Ngwenya) friends, and most of his friends are magistrates, lawyers, prosecutors…so they can make that case easier for him, or for that person (his client). If you want your case to be withdrawn, or if you want everything to disappear, you just go to him. (Ngwenya)
BBC: What about magistrates?
FRESH: Same thing, same procedure. So most of the time they will come and get the money from his garage. Or we will go to them. They will drink with him, even after court they would sit in his car and smoke with him and talk about the case.
BBC: What is the biggest of those cases that Ngwenya has been involved in?
FRESH: Gwala is the biggest case that I know of.
// TRANSCRIPT END
25 April 2019: Unknown raging man is blocked by Saving the Wild’s security detail, with Gwala’s defense attorney Ngwenya and Gwala’s co-accused Makeba in the background.
Again and again, during a ten minute period, the raging man was restrained from reaching Saving the Wild Director Jamie Joseph | Security detail sponsored by NSA Global Security.
Circling back to day two of trial, 25 April, and I’m standing outside the Mtubatuba courthouse next to my vehicle, and about 30 seconds after Gwala walks into the court building, Ngwenya’s driver rushes over to us and starts screaming. I immediately got into the vehicle while one of my close protection officers (CPO) restrained the raging man from reaching me. The other CPO reversed my vehicle until we could go no further and we were parked directly in front of a police vehicle with the police officers watching this man accost me. I immediately introduced myself to the police officers and made it clear I would not engage with this raging man and I have no idea who he is.
He kept screaming that I had taken his photograph. After a few minutes of screaming he finally calmed down long enough to show us the photograph on his phone – a photograph in fact of Ngwenya wearing the $100 bank note tie, and it had been posted the day earlier on Saving the Wild’s Instagram page (see top image). The unknown man was standing beside him, mostly cropped out of the photograph and unrecognizable. I realized it had nothing to do with the photograph and it was all an attempt to create chaos at court. I immediately deleted the photo off instagram, but it did nothing to stop the shouting which continued for another seven minutes.
He kept shouting so that everyone could hear, “It’s a racist thing! It’s because I am black!”
It was at this point that more vehicles arrived, members of the Inkatha Freedom Party, including Chief Whip and Spokesperson on Environment, Mr Narend Singh MP, and IFP Chief of Staff Advocate Anthony Mitchell, together with representatives of Greenpeace Africa and party supporters.
The raging man cornered the IFP on the staircase and shouted his claims that I had taken his photograph with racist intent. They immediately shut him down and were having none of it.
Says Inkatha Freedom Party, “IFP’s Spokesperson on Environment and Chief Whip in Parliament who together with IFP Adv. Anthony Mitchell attended court proceedings and were shocked when they arrived at the Magistrates court in Mtubatuba, witnessing first-hand the ‘circus type’ antics that this court case has become as insults were hurled in the parking lot by the accused supporters at Ms Jamie Joseph of Saving the Wild whilst SAPS officers stood idly by not intervening at any point to restore calm to the situation.
The IFP has advised that they will be taking this matter further with both the Magistrates and Judicial Services Commission as well as the Ministry of Justice as our Courthouses should be places where justice is dispensed without fear, favour, prejudice or harassment.”
Photo: 25 April outside Mtubatuba Court: Saving the Wild and Inkatha Freedom Party supporters.
The irony is, all the victims who have been affected by the Blood Rhino Blacklist are black, and most are Zulu. Fresh handed himself in to me after a young Zulu boy was raped and his uncle Ngwenya, with Linda introducing Ngwenya to the case, allegedly paying off the prosecutors to take it easy on the rapist – this, according to the sworn police affidavit by Fresh.
READ: 8 April Zululand Observer cover story ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’. Photo: Zulu Princess and recording international artist Toya Delazy and Saving the Wild Director Jamie Joseph
Below is an email extract I received from the Magistrates Commission more than 15 months ago…
The trial in respect of the 14 year boy that was allegedly raped is proceeding before another magistrate (competent), Mr Ngwenya has withdrawn as attorney of record. We still await the transcription of the record as issues that may be relevant to our investigation may surfaced, and in particular with reference to the modus operandi of Mr Ngwenya.
The crux of the matter is that all these magistrates (and some other) have particular interactions with Mr Ngwenya and that interrelated activities may provide supportive evidence of possible unbecoming and even criminal activities.
25 April 2019: Finally, after more than ten minutes of abuse by the raging unknown man outside the courthouse, we were able to enter the courthouse, but then he was joined by Ngwenya and Linda, and the shouting continued – again claiming I exposed them for corruption because they are “black”. It should be noted that the majority of South Africa’s population and government are black, and it was actually South Africa’s Ministry of Justice and Parliament who suspended KZN Court President Eric Nzimande – not me.
STATEMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES ON THE SUSPENSION OF THE KWAZULU-NATAL REGIONAL COURT PRESIDENT. October 8, 2018
It is alleged, amongst others, that Mr Nzimande on various occasions approached the Deputy Minister recommending the acting appointment of a number of attorneys for them to act in the Regional Courts within his Regional Division and, in turn, received numerous payments from these attorneys. It is also alleged that Mr Nzimande wrongfully victimized and or sexually harassed, a female acting Regional Magistrate.
Two of the attorneys who were granted acting magistrates posts were Ngwenya and Linda, and yet they had neither the experience nor the integrity. See end of page for extracts taken from Sam Sole’s expose illustrating payments going into Nzimande’s bank account.
Or read the full story here.
My security detail blocked the unknown raging man, Ngwenya and Linda from getting too close to me, and then they turned their rage on an Officer of the Court. They ganged up on her and screamed unabated like hooligans, their voices reverberating throughout the Mtubatuba Courthouse. This went on for a long time and the court police did nothing to stop it.
Finally, court began, we all entered the courthouse, and trial did not proceed as Gwala’s co-accused Dlamini was still not feeling well. Linda requested that trial continue in October because, she claimed, she is very busy. At this point the magistrate called her into her chambers, and shortly after that, 20 and 21 June trial dates were set.
It appears the magistrate is doing her best to prevent Linda and Ngwenya the opportunity to make a mockery of her courtroom, and she should be applauded for her no-nonsense stance.
The purpose of me publishing this story is not to ask for better conditions at Mtubatuba Court. There must be a record of what happened, but we’ve dealt with a lot worse, and I am just grateful to NSA Global for sponsoring our security detail during trial. My safety is my concern, and I will not give the Court any reason to have me removed. I will bear witness to the trial, and Saving the Wild’s attorney will continue as the Legal Watching Brief, and these transcripts from court are available to journalists on request.
The concern I have right now is what happens outside of court. Why would Gwala and his co accused Makeba suddenly bring Ngwenya and Linda back into the fray when they are all already so exposed, with criminal charges pending. They are all masters of delay tactics and I do not believe for one second that they have any intention of finishing this trial.
My concern is that they the old guard at the Magistrates Commission is protecting Ngwenya and Linda, and suspended KZN Court President Eric Nzimande, and other corrupt justice officials. Investigations into various magistrates that we have insight into, have run for nearly four years, and not one investigation has been completed by the Magistrates Commission. It all just hangs in the air until the world forgets, or perhaps witnesses are assassinated and evidence falls apart.
Towards the end of last year I arranged for private security to take whistleblower Fresh, who is currently in hiding, to meet with a senior investigator at the Magistrates Commission. Even though the Commission already had Fresh’s sworn police affidavit, which goes into explicit detail about the various magistrates he was instructed by his uncle Ngwenya to pay cash bribes too, he still bravely agreed to testify in front of the Commission. That testimony was supposed to take place in January. Many occasions I have emailed the Commission trying to set that meeting up, and all my emails have been ignored.
I want it on record that if Fresh is assassinated, the Magistrates Commission will have blood on their hands. They show no intention of completing this investigation. And the longer they drag it out, the more lives are in danger.
Below is an extract of an email I sent the Magistrates Commission on Friday 3 May 2019:
Here is Fresh, a young man who was entrapped into a criminal dark world and instructed by his uncle Ngwenya to pay off many magistrates, who stuffed wads of cash into their hands, sometimes accompanied by bottles of Hennessey, and the Magistrates Commission continues to turn a blind eye to this. It’s all so horrific. And all the money going into Nzimande’s bank account…the trail is all there, and yet you do nothing.
I am tired of the sabotage. I am tired of the harassment. I am tired of having to deal with these criminals because the Magistrates Commission fails to act.
Please, try to show some respect for those who have risked their lives in the pursuit of justice. Please don’t let it all be for nothing.
23 May 2016: Gwala accosts Jamie Joseph at Ngwelezane Court. Photo credit: Boots on the Ground.
“Gwala spewed his spit in my face! In my career this was the most traumatic, repulsive, shocking and degrading experience ever!”
-Thuli Dlamini, Sunday Times photographer
“DA members were threatened by Gwala, and then he bragged that he had bought his car from the proceeds of the sale of rhino horn.”
DA KZN spokesperson Ann McDonnell
24 April 2019: Gwala walks passed DA supporters chanting “Kill the game! Kill the game!”
By Sam Sole for amaBhungane / Daily Maverick – September 22nd 2018
By next week KwaZulu-Natal regional court president Eric Nzimande must provide reasons to the Magistrate’s Commission as to why he should not be suspended, pending the finalisation of misconduct proceedings.
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.
Nzimande, through his attorney, was provided with detailed allegations for his comment. He failed to respond.
The delays in finalising the Magistrate’s Commission probe raise questions about the commitment and structure of the commission as the statutory body that exercises discipline over magistrates.
Attorney ZW Ngwenya
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, totalling R30 000.
Swart also identifies cases where Ngwenya was appearing as a defence attorney in poaching matters in Zululand at the same time he was supposed to be an acting magistrate clearing the case backlog in Pietermaritzburg.
She notes: “When comparing the dates in the charge sheets… I found that during Mr Ngwenya’s acting stint in the Regional court in [Pietermaritzburg], he was legally representing an accused person who is to be alleged as the Rhino Kingpin.
“No leave forms were submitted by Mr Ngwenya during the days he represented the accused persons in court. Neither was any money deducted from his salary.”
Ngwenya could not be reached for comment and appears to have gone to ground. We will see shortly why that might be so.
Attorney Mpume Linda
Swart’s draft report notes that Linda made a R3 000 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”.
Linda did not respond to emailed requests for a response to detailed allegations.
It was the rhino connections that led Swart’s investigative path to intersect with the fierce bushwhacking advocacy of Jamie Joseph.
Photo credit: Thomas D. Mangelsen | Saving the Wild Collection
“There are less than 25 000 wild rhinos left in Africa, and they are being butchered at an astonishing rate – for a horn that nobody needs. What does this say of our humanity if we cannot save this modern day dinosaur?”