A convicted rhino poacher who was found guilty of the murder of his accomplice, even though he did not fire the gun, has been effectively jailed for 21 years.

Ingwavuma Regional Court Magistrate MA Khumalo sentenced Wawito Mawala to 15 years for the murder of his hunting companion, Erasmo Mazivele, who was shot in a confrontation with game rangers. Mawala was also given nine years for unlawfully hunting rhino and a year for trespassing in an area where game was likely. Four of the nine years will run concurrently with his murder term. The magistrate took into account that Mawala did not physically kill the poacher, and that no species were killed or captured during their illegal hunt. The magistrate said that rhino poaching was not only a cruel invasion into the rights of animals which were the country’s heritage, but the imminent extinction of the rhino population was badly affecting the economy. ‘The continued poaching of rhinos and other specially-protected game will continue to minimise the ability of the vibrant tourism function that provides employment and economic opportunities to many people in this country who are increasingly dependent on this for their livelihood,’ he said.

Mawala must have foreseen the possibility of the death when he and three others conspired to hunt rhino at Ndumo Game Reserve in November 2011, said Khumalo, according to a Daily News report which notes this is being hailed as a ground-breaking verdict in the fight against rhino poaching. Mazivele and his companions were spotted in the Maputaland reserve on 19 November 2011 by two game rangers who were pursuing a white rhino. One of the rangers, Cyprian Innocent Gumede, ordered Mazivele – who was carrying a bolt-action rifle – to lower his weapon, but the hunter turned and pointed it in the direction of Gumede. The rangers, realising they were in danger, fired shots at Mazivele and his companions, fatally wounding him. Khumalo said the state, represented by Advocate Yuri Gangai, had successfully proved that Mawala had acted in concert with his companions and had subjectively foreseen the possibility of their actions causing the death of another person, yet persisted regardless of the consequences.

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