Helen Eloff

Col Johan Jooste explained in his testimony that rhino poaching works in five levels and that Petrus Sydney Mabuza is a level three role-player.

June 22, 2018

A court employee releases Petrus Sydney ‘Mr Big’ Mabuza from the holding cell into the courtroom.

WHITE RIVER – The arrest of alleged poaching kingpin, Petrus Sydney “Mr Big” Mabuza took years. He was charged in the Hazyview Periodical Court last week – 15 years after he first caught the attention of anti-poaching authorities.

Col Johan Jooste, national commander of the Hawks’ Endangered Species Section, gave a thorough account of the nature and functioning of poaching syndicates and explained what Mabuza’s role is believed to be. According to Jooste’s testimony during Mabuza’s bail application, poaching and the trafficking of rhino horn operate on five levels.

“Level one is where the action takes place. It involves killing the rhino, reaping its horn and handing it over to a level-two receiver,” he testified.

A level-two operator, he explained, is someone who has the logistic ability to receive and fast-track the horn without being detected. This person is responsible for getting it to the level-three buyer. A level-three role player “is in control of the supply chain from the moment the animal is poached until they receive the rhino horn. This is done in an organised way,” Jooste said.

READ ALSO: Alleged KNP poaching kingpin behind bars

He added that these persons are far removed from the performing of the poaching act on ground level and indicated that “Mr Big” fell in this category. “They control those who function beneath them, but try not to get detected. This is where payment is given to those who have done their duties. This level is dealt with nationally and these persons scout horns for the Gauteng market, known as level four,” he said. Level-four syndicate members obtain horns from level-three members and ensure that the rhino horns are sold to South-East Asian markets.

“Level four funds the lower levels,” stated Jooste. These role players conceal rhino horns in different ways to avoid detection at, for example, the OR Tambo International Airport.

“Level five is the final level and refers to those who receive and pay for the rhino horns in South-East Asian countries,” he concluded.

Jooste stated that poaching has dramatically escalated in South Africa during the last decade.Law enforcers realised that they had to zone in on those higher up in the poaching hierarchy.

Jooste stated that it could take months or years to establish an evidentiary link between the level-three commander and the acts performed by other role players.Mabuza’s arrest was preceded by lengthy investigations, searches and an undercover operation during which he allegedly bought rhino horn from police members.

READ ALSO: The person behind ‘Mr Big’

During his bail application, no members of the police, the Hawks or the NPA were willing to divulge any additional information to what had been placed on the court record. One detective was willing to comment, stating only: “Wait until the bail hearing is over and the trial comes. If you thought this was something, you won’t believe what you will be hearing in the next few months”.