A story taken from the AFP news agency by the South African Sunday Times, last weekend, highlighted how desperate prosecutors pass stiffer and stiffer sentences on poachers of rhinos in the country’s famous Kruger Park –without much hope that poaching will actually get any less. Interviewed by the AFP reporter, prosecutor Ansie Venter –who is attached to the Skukuza Magistrates Court inside the Kruger Park- confessed to be close to despair in this regard. “Somehow we have to believe that passing higher sentences will be a deterrent”, she said, whilst at the same time admitting that the court, which tries mainly poaching cases, “is getting busier by the day” and that those caught and tried are mainly poor people ‘desperate for an income’.” The story narrates how, the same day she was interviewed, Venter secured a seven-year jail sentence for 43-year old father of six Elliot Mzimba.
Also quoted in the article were experts on rhino poaching, who said that the kingpins behind the organised poaching structures were left virtually untouched and that the problem was that fight against this crime was really not a priority, not in South Africa and not in neighbouring Mozambique, where most poachers hail from.
As a result, overworked prosecutors are left to deal with ‘those at the low end of the food chain’, simple, poor individuals like Elliot Mzimba, used as cannon fodder by the syndicates. Though anti-rhino-poaching activists are pushing for ever higher sentences, it is doubtful, in such a situation, that these will make any difference.
See also: Hunting Season, Lazaro Mabunda’s excellent investigation in the Mozambican villages where poachers rule.