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Up close of rhino head with oxpecker
© Scotty Nyams/Our Horn is NOT Medicine
Opinion post written by Lee-Anne Davis, founder of Our Horn is NOT Medicine

Innocent until proven guilty. That is the foundation of our legal system in South Africa. The very same legal system protected in the much-revered 1994 Constitution.

I have just read a story about a 25-year-old woman who was arrested at Komatipoort for shoplifting. She was found in possession of five English dictionaries valued at R749. (Her children needed dictionaries for school).
She was arrested and charged with theft and released on bail of R1,000.

Next scenario…

A man is found deep in the block of a national park. He is carrying a high calibre rifle with the serial number filed off. He is carrying enough food in his backpack for three days, has “muti” (traditional medicine given by witchdoctors for various reasons) strapped to his body and is carrying an axe. He may even be carrying rhino horn.

Black and white photo of three rhinos sleeping
© Scotty Nyams/Our Horn is NOT Medicine

Innocent until proven guilty.

It protects the nation’s people of being falsely accused and sent to prison. Which is obviously correct. But what do you think the man trespassing into the park is doing? Illegally minding his cattle? Maybe… that’s why he needs a rifle for protection from lions and elephants – but wait, the serial number was filed off the rifle. Well then, maybe he was hunting for some bushmeat, an impala or bushbuck, to feed his family? The park has plenty of those and we can’t prosecute him as we would a rhino poacher. But wait, why is he carrying a high calibre rifle to hunt small antelope? High calibres such as .375 or .458 are only used on big animals like elephant and rhino? And why on Earth has he packed a bag full of food, enough to last three or four days? And the muti strapped to his side?

It is my belief that South Africa’s so-called “judicial system” is at fault. To protect innocent until proven guilty is right, but you can not tell me that the woman stealing five dictionaries for her children and the man deep in the national park block, who is obviously looking to poach a rhino, deserve the same protection?

Those are two very different crimes.

I know of too many poachers that have been released on R20,000 (US$1,600) bail. They might have a court date set, but this gets continually remanded – for in most cases up to three or four years until they are eventually tried and a verdict is given. What do you think they are doing right now as they wait for their slow approaching day in court? They are poaching.

Two white rhinos in the wild
© Scotty Nyams/Our Horn is NOT Medicine

The number of rhinos in South Africa is not increasing.

While our dear field rangers relentlessly chase after armed men through the bushveld under the hot sun or in the freezing cold night, risking their lives, you have to wonder if it is all worth the effort. The poachers are caught by the rangers who hand them over to the authorities, they are then released on bail and allowed to fall back into society, after which they head back to the bush to do the same thing all over again!

I have heard people from all over the world say many times, “Why don’t they just shoot them?”. Like it’s no big deal. Well, from time to time that does happen – in self-defence. Because that is the law: You may not shoot at someone running away from you as you may be charged with murder. The law is here to protect each one of us, but there has to be relevance in each situation. But perhaps South Africa is protecting the wrong people?

The question I raise now is how is the South African government going to effectively deal with an abuse of justice, and ensure that there is a real deterrent to would-be rhino poachers?

There is a very clear recipe for these poachers. It is as clear as night, and the judicial system is turning a blind eye. Turning a blind eye on the private and government employed rangers and police, on the people of South Africa who depend on the country’s wildlife for livelihood, and of course the rhinos.

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