Rhino poaching kingpin, and the magistrate that keeps him out of jail

EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Written by: Jamie Joseph for savingthewild.com

Dumisani Gwala is the rhino poaching kingpin you’ve never heard of. Gwala is the leader of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest rhino poaching syndicate, and it is believed about 80% of the horns in the province go through his hands.

To put this into perspective, KwaZulu-Natal had the highest rates of poaching in 2015, after ‘ground zero’ in Kruger National Park.

An eight-month intelligence-driven operation culminated in Gwala’s arrest in December 2014. Using a reverse sting, crime intelligence officers from Pretoria gained his trust by selling him rhino horn on five separate occasions. The horns were supplied by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. In the final move, in the rural community of Manguzi (15km south of the Mozambique-South Africa border), a crime intelligence agent handed over a 5kg horn and received residual money from the previous sale. At that point a Special Task Team member jumped out of the boot of the agent’s car.

The alleged kingpin attempted to disarm the Special Task Team member, severely beating and biting him, and then he got into his car and attempted to run him over. Back-up arrived and Gwala was arrested.

Alleged rhino kingpin Gwala on the ground after arrest. He was shot in the leg while resisting arrest.

Alleged rhino kingpin Gwala on the ground after arrest. He was shot in the leg while resisting arrest.

Gwala is brutal by nature, and widely known among poaching circles and law enforcement as a man that rules by the gun. There have been several cases against him before, but the cases have either been withdrawn, or the dockets have suspiciously gone missing. While Gwala claims he is unemployed, the Asset Forfeiture Unit seized six luxury vehicles from his premises worth millions, including a BMW X5 and a 3-series, a Mercedes Kompressor, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Prada.

When Gwala appeared in court, not only was he granted bail of a pittance of ZAR10,000 (US$600), but Magistrate Ngcobo released all his vehicles that had just been seized. South African Police Services (SAPS) immediately obtained a court order to repossess the vehicles, but when the Asset Forfeiture Unit arrived at his house to collect the vehicles, he stood defiantly at the entrance with a five-litre container of petrol and threatened to burn all the vehicles if the officers came any closer. The officers left and he quickly stashed all the vehicles. Only one vehicle has since been recovered.

Magistrate Ngcobo has a long history of letting off rhino poachers with a slap on the wrist or a small fine. Gwala’s defense attorney is Ngwenya, the same attorney that defends most of the poachers in KwaZulu-Natal. How these poverty stricken poachers can afford an attorney is still a mystery, but when Magistrate Ngcobo needs to attend cases in Pongola, he has been known to stay at Ngwenya’s house – so perhaps that is a question the two can answer together.

Just last week Magistrate Ngcobo acquitted Warrant Officer Christopher Gumbi in the Mtubatuba Magistrate’s Court. He was originally charged with armed robbery, possession of rhino horn, and defeating the ends of justice. Warrant Officer Christopher Gumbi, of the Jozini police cluster, was arrested about one year ago after an undercover operation and months of surveillance. Solomon Makgale, spokesperson for national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, said that Gumbi is alleged to have pointed his weapon at undercover agents posing as poachers, and robbed them of two rhino horns before fleeing without attempting to arrest them. Gumbi was later arrested with the rhino horns and his police service revolver was confiscated.

My sources tell me that on numerous occasions Warrant Officer Gumbi had seized rhino horns from poachers, and then sold them on to Gwala. My sources all tell me that on numerous occasions poachers that are caught poaching will admit that they are working for Gwala, but they refuse to testify against him in court as they fear for their lives.

South African criminal syndicates are working in conjunction with poachers from Mozambique, and the conviction rate of arrests are ashamedly low, often with poachers being let off with a small fine or a warning. This looting of our natural resources is just as much about humans as it is about animals, and if we continue to fail to prosecute these criminals, economies will collapse, causing more poverty and more conflict.

One of the few survivors of the poaching crisis.

One of the few survivors of the poaching crisis.

This is an appeal to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to take action, to urgently investigate Magistrate Ngcobo and a judicial system that is clearly failing us.

Jamie Joseph

Jamie Joseph is the founder of savingthewild.com and has recently initiated an anti-corruption fund to expose and eradicate corruption enabling poaching. Follow Saving the Wild #BloodRhinoBlacklist on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Rosie St Lam

    South Africa is never going to move forward until they get rid of the corruption there, starting at the very top !

  • @TheLourie

    Jamie, what kind of a vehicle is a Prada? A very fashionable one?

  • Al

    Money in the ‘right’ hands clearly in South Africa is responsible for this. Saddest thing is that nothing is done to remedy this and so many suffer there people and animals alike. I once lived there but am delighted to be out.

  • Janet

    Only way to get rid of cancer is to cut it out. These evil crooks should have an “accident”. Save all this misery, tax payers money, and will be doing the world a favor.

  • Has the author applied to the Public Protector to investigate these matters?

  • Attila Barath

    the only way is to remove the black market dollar value of a RH through legal sales… why pay a risky premium if you can buy it at source ……elementary my dear Watson

    • Ping2

      Ok Sherlock, tell us where you will get all the rhino horn from for all these “legal” sales. You think they grow on trees?

      • Grrrrr…

        It’s not rocket science… firstly SA’ Nat Parks dept has a hoard of few tons of horn and tusk which by the way is being pilfered at a rapid rate.

        Secondly horns are harvested periodically so there is no need to kill the animal. It’s plain stupid Similarly one does not kill a cow once you have milked it

        Hope this helps 😜

        • Ping2

          I defer to your greater knowledge on the subject, but with reservation.
          1. The tons of stockpiled horns will be soaked up very quickly by the voracious Asians, fueeling further demand.
          2. Comparing milking a cow (daily) with harvesting the horn off a rhino (annually)is clearly not a realistic comparison. So, is your point valid? Can you keep up with demand which you are sponsoring?
          3. Where do you hide the rhino while they grow the horn that you will harvest for the market? What will stop the poachers from doing exactly what they are doing right now?

          I am of the opinion that the answer lies more in fighting fire with fire. Like,
          1. Poisoning the horn stockpiles and then releasing them into the market. That should reduce demand dramatically, especially if it is not fatal, but maybe causing impotence instead!
          2. Adopting a “shoot on sight” policy with poachers, and allowing the army to get some target practice at the same time, instead of languishing at their bases playing pool and drinking beer. (Of course they will have to be monitored lest they become the new poachers, but that is still better than the losing battle which is currently being waged.)

          All of this needs to be done urgently or the rhino will become extinct. Trying to satisfy the market will not curb demand and provides no disincentive for the criminal gangs who indulge in this evil game. Exterminating THEM will do the job. The PC (Politically Correct) way of dealing with criminality is not winnning the war, we need to become militant in our response, and kill, or be killed.

          We are not living in the time of faint-hearted and feeble responses to people of murderous intent. We are living in the “time of the wolf”, and the meek will inherit a six-foot hole in the ground.

          Hope that offers a new vision.

  • Veldmeisie

    Only one way to stop this.

  • Murray Guy

    Go Jamie, no longer here, BUT never forgotten, always valued!

  • mackson chirwa

    Jamie Joseph, thanx for your article dated 28january 2016,about rhinopoacher gwala
    I think you overreacted on blaming the magistrates and the lawyer before getting the concrete evidence on both side of the matter ,how can police officials sell five rhino horns to Gwala without arresting him on the first occasion ?don’t blame only the magistrates, investigate these police official s too coz they had good corrupt friendships with Gwala
    ask me why?

  • mackson chirwa

    I am concerned Joseph about the killing of rhinos in our country
    it looks like this is the syndicates which starts from Ezemvelo KZN wild life and these intelligentctrl ional police official s to be investigated by the Public killing of Thuli madonsela
    there is double standard being played, we are ready to help u Joseph to get the bottom of this issue .we are also ready to help Public protector to unfold this story coz it pains me when police officials too are involved in killing innocent animals

  • mackson chirwa

    Collection on my second paragraph of my statement it should be National intelligent police officials and Ezemvelo wildlife KZN need to be investigated by Public protector Thule madonse

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