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Approximately 400 people, mainly from rural areas in the Mbombela district attended a public hearing of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs on Friday, 5 September 2014, loudly condemning the number of officials involved in rhino poaching and calling for heavier sentences to be applied to all public servants found guilty of rhino poaching, as well as confiscation of their assets.

The hearing was one of a series intended to get broader public input into environmental issues, including rhino poaching. Mr. Fundisile Mketeni of the Department of Environmental Affairs gave an overview of the rhino poaching problem in South Africa and highlighted the escalation in rhinos killed over the last seven years.

Image taken at the public hearings in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. © Terri Stander
Image taken at the public hearings in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga © Terri Stander

Local businessman Dex Kotze was concerned at the news from Mketeni that the 227 rhino poaching arrests in 2014 were restricted to poachers only and that no couriers, buyers, exporters or kingpins had been arrested. “It is clear that targeting the foot soldiers from local communities while letting the kingpins go free, will not solve the poaching problem,” he stated.

Since 2011, there have been 151 cases finalised involving 290 accused, of which 181 were convicted. This is an acceptable conviction rate on the face of it; however a different picture emerges when these results are compared to official SANParks statistics, which record 1 164 arrests since 2010. The figures may not be directly comparable however it is quite clear that only a small percentage of those arrested actually appeared in court and fewer still of those arrested were convicted. This appears to confirm persistent rumours that prosecutors only bring to court those cases which are likely to result in convictions.

One public participant made a comment that after she heard a rhino poacher being given a 77 year jail sentence, she was putting a stop to her rhino poaching activities and going back to being a hawker.

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Martina Polley

Martina Polley is a freelance journalist living in Cape Town. Her work can be found in local publications where she writes about social issues, wildlife, conservation or the joys of travel. She spent two years living on a game reserve, a year surviving on baguettes through Europe and a month exploring India solo. Her favourite pastime is donning her Vellies for a trip into the bush.