South Africa

Skukuza court accused of letting poachers off with slap on the wrist

A damning letter of complaint against the Mpumalanga chief magistrate and Skukuza District Court magistrate by South African National Parks’ Kruger National Park (KNP) management has accused them of sabotaging the war on rhino poaching.

KNP spokesperson Ike Phaahla said sentencing at the flagship Skukuza court has reached lows “never seen before” and is leading to an increase of insurgents to the park looking for rhino horn, which had apparently led to increased contact between poachers and rangers.

The court previously boasted a 99.8% conviction rate and “up to recently had a 100% success rate in opposed bail applications”, stated the complaint.

The KNP has accused recently appointed magistrate Simon Fankomo of granting bail to repeat offenders with previous convictions, “despite the two specialist prosecutors addressing the presiding officer properly, comprehensively and at length like they always did”.

“They in fact went further than that: they handed in sworn statements explaining the bleak situation of our wildlife; they supplied statistics and put a comprehensive picture before the court,” Phaahla wrote to the department of justice and constitutional development.

“Magistrate Fankomo apparently simply ignored all of it. Sentences like a R3 000 fine [are] now [meted out] for the possession of an unlicensed hunting rifle in the KNP!”

Phaahla said the offence was usually met with direct imprisonment of between five and 15 years, due to the offence being compounded because it was committed inside a national park.

Calling the actions an “onslaught on the ongoing existence of the Skukuza courts”, the complaint noted the court was established in March 2017 “despite huge controversy and resistance by the regional court president of Mpumalanga”.

It is believed the current actions were at the chief magistrate’s behest.

“The chief magistrate of Mpumalanga also wanted to close down the district court in Skukuza and move the cases to Bushbuckridge,” Phaahla said, noting it was due to Mpumalanga Judge President Malesela Legodi’s intervention the courts were not closed.

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