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2022/11/18      |  Written By:  Brigadier S Mohlala   |   Province:  Mpumalanga

Nelspruit: 16 November 2022 - A rhino poacher, Silvester Sidney Zitha (40) originally from Mozambique was sentenced to an effective 17 years imprisonment by the Skukuza Regional Court on Tuesday, 15 November 2022.

His sentence stems from a rhino poaching incident in which Zitha and his accomplice were caught after entering the Kruger National Park via Tshokwana Section between 18 and 19 October 2018.

In the morning of 19 October 2018 field rangers that were working on that day spotted human tracks towards Kingfisher ranger area. It is said that they then informed their leader (Section Ranger) concerning the discovery. Later on a chopper was brought in to assist with the search. The foot prints were followed until around 16h00 on that day (19 October 2018) when the rangers heard sound of gunshots and thereafter at approximately 5 meters, they saw two males running towards their direction. One of the men was in possession of a bag and an axe whilst the other was in possession of a firearm.

The rangers then ordered them to immediately stop, however the two continued to run whilst dropping off the items they were carrying. A chase ensued for about 3 kilometers but the pair was apprehend. During their capture, two backpacks were also found in their possession with rhino horns as well as another backpack with four live ammunitions as well as a .458 hunting rifle with a silence on. Other items confiscated was an axe.

Police were summoned and Zitha as well as his co-accused were arrested. Police discovered that Zitha was in South Africa without valid documentation. During court appearance, a bail application was made and only his co-accused was granted bail but Zitha on the other hand was denied bail. His co-accused never returned to court and on a later stage he passed away which left Zitha to stand trial alone.

On Tuesday, 15 November 2022 that is when Zitha was found guilty and sentenced as follows:

On the count of trespassing (count 1), the accused was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and on the count of possession of hunting rifle and silencer (count 3), he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. Meanwhile on the count of possession of unlicensed ammunition(4), he was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and on the count of killing of a rhino (count 5), the accused was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment then on the count of possession of dangerous weapon (count 6), Zitha was sentenced to one year imprisonment. The accused was also sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy (count 7) to commit crime. In terms of section 280 (2) of Act 51 of 1977, the court ordered that the sentences in count 6 and 4 will run concurrently with the sentence in count 3, and that the sentence in count 7 will run concurrently with the sentence in count 5, culminating to the 17 years imprisonment. The accused was further declared unfit to possess a firearm.

The Provincial Commissioner of the SAPS in Mpumalanga, Lieutenant General Semakaleng Daphney Manamela has welcomed the sentence and appreciated all stakeholders for their contribution which led to the well-deserved sentence including the SANPARKS staff (Rangers), the team of investigators, the Prosecution team, and the Judiciary.