iol.co.za (Soutb Africa)
Sick accused puts brakes on rhino poaching trial
Gwala was arrested in a sting by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) in December 2014.
After more than 20 adjournments, their trial eventually began on Wednesday. The three face 10 charges related to activities involving threatened and protected species, which included the buying and selling of rhino horns.
Gwala has two more charges to his name: resisting arrest and attempted murder. The State alleged he disarmed and tried to shoot a policeman during the 2014 bust.
All three pleaded not guilty.
Gwala, who allegedly spat at a journalist at a previous court sitting, was named in the “Blood Rhino Blacklist” published in October 2017 by Saving the Wild, headed by wildlife activist Jamie Joseph.
In the publication, which has been endorsed by people like Sir Richard Branson and musician Vusi Mahlasela, Joseph claimed that a cabal which included magistrates, police and state prosecutors worked in concert to protect people like Gwala, who were linked to suspected poaching syndicates.
During Wednesday’s court sitting, Gwala wore another of his trademark Dashiki shirt and hat sets and was represented by attorney Zwelonke Ngwenya. Attorney Mpume Linda represented Makeba, while Hopewell Ngidi acted on behalf of Dlamini.
The court, in the heart of Zululand, was filled to capacity with relatives of the accused, a small group of DA supporters, conservationists and journalists. A high glass partition blocked off the gallery from the dock, where the accused sat.
State attorney Andre Symington told the court it would rely on evidence gathered by police during a sting operation, which was approved by the director of public prosecutions, to prove its case.
The attorneys for the defence objected, claiming the rules for obtaining such evidence had been “flouted”. They requested a trial within a trial to determine whether the evidence the State intended to lead was admissible.
Ngwenya said: “The investigating officer and his agents circumvented provisions – even the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act was breached.
“Evidence obtained on a voice-activated device and video footage violated my client’s right to privacy.”
Zungu did not agree to a trial within a trial; she said she would rule on the evidence presented in court at the end of the trial.
Jean Pierre van Zyl Roux, the investigating officer, was the State’s first witness. He told the court he had 24 years’ experience as a detective and his area of expertise was investigating crimes related to endangered animals.
Roux said through his informer network he was able to establish a syndicate selling rhino horn was operating in Manguzi.
An application was made by Roux with his provincial office to investigate the syndicate and it received local and national approval in 2014. It was code-named “Project Racketeer”.
Roux said through intelligence he had gathered, Gwala was identified as the “main target”, but to get to him he needed the assistance of lower-ranked syndicate members.
When he found out Gwala had allegedly approached one of his informants about rhino horns, he made the application with the DPP for an undercover operation.
Roux said the plan was for his informant to introduce an undercover policeman to Gwala, who would sell him rhino horns.
His testimony was halted when Ngidi told the court his client was not feeling well.
Zungu postponed the case to June.