A Judge yesterday put on terms three men facing rhino-poaching charges for alleged theft of horn valued at R11.1 million. During a short appearance in the High Court in Grahamstown on Monday 6 November 2017 Jabulani Ndlovu (40), Forget Ndlovu (37) and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu (38) were granted a postponement to 11 December. With 51 state witnesses on standby and the accused out on bail, this will be the seventh time the case has come before a Judge since the State sought to proceed with the trial in April this year. Yesterday was the sixth postponement.
Jabulani Ndlovu (40), Forget Ndlovu (37) and Sikhumbuzo Ndlovu (38) were arrested at Makana Resort in Grahamstown in June 2016 after police said they had found them in possession of a newly harvested horn together with a darting rifle and drugs, darts, saws, knives and camping gear. Their arrest came soon after a white rhino bull was killed at Bucklands Private Game Reserve near Grahamstown. They are currently out on bail.
Judge Jeremy Pickering yesterday granted the men a postponement to allow the first accused, Jabulani, to secure the services of the legal counsel of his choice.
*Attorney Mark Nettelton, representing Jabulani, explained that his client had opted to be represented by high-profile defence team advocate Terry Price, briefed by Port Elizabeth attorney Alwyn Griebenow. Price most recently represented Christopher Panayiotou, convicted of murdering his wife Jayde Panayiotou and due for sentencing on 17 November.
Nettelton said Jabulani Ndlovu, who was in financial difficulty, had since decided he wished to be represented by the Price/Griebenow team and would sell property to pay these lawyers. However, they were unavailable during the dates set down for the trial this month, starting Monday 6 November.
*Attorney Templeton Solani, who represents Forget and Sikhumbuzo through Legal Aid, said the second and third accused had failed to arrive to brief him as scheduled last week, because they’d relied on Jabulani for transport. Because the latter had changed his mind about representation, he’d not driven to Grahamstown for the briefing and so neither had his co-accused.
Strongly protesting the delays, Senior State Advocate Buks Coetzee said there was a pattern of delaying tactics.
“This now requires a postponement of at least seven months,” Coetzee said to the Judge. “And it’s on the vague basis that the case will proceed if (Jabulani) comes into funds and is ready.” Coetzee argued that given the serious nature of the charges, and that expert witnesses were on standby, further delays were prejudicing the State.
“Justice is not a one-way street,” Coetzee said.
Coetzee argued that the trial could proceed and be completed within the current period allocated, with Jabulani briefing Legal Aid lawyers. He said while there were 65 charges, there was very little in dispute.
“There are 13 incidents of alleged killing of rhinos by the accused,” Coetzee said. He said the State had landowners as witnesses and evidence that linked the accused by inference, and the case could be wrapped up in a week.
The Judge granted the postponement but said Jabulani must declare on 11 December who his legal counsel would be for the trial which will start during the first court term of 2018.
“You can’t then say you will only proceed if a particular counsel is available,” Pickering said. “The court cannot be held to ransom. You have one opportunity to secure the services of Price and Griebenow and if you don’t have funds, you need to brief Legal Aid lawyers.”
He ruled that the trial must proceed in the first court term of 2018.
The trio face 65 charges following the deaths of around 20 rhinos in 13 incidents. In the indictment, each incident encompasses five counts and the total value of the horn allegedly stolen is R11.1 million.
A group of around 10 members of the public who attended the court session on Monday 6 November said they didn’t belong to a single organisation. “We’re here for the rhinos,” a woman said.
In May this year the men were granted bail. This was despite the State arguing that the men, all Zimbabwean citizens, posed an immediate flight risk and a continued threat to rhino.
* Corrections made on 8 November to reflect the correct title of Nettelton and Solani as attorneys, and that Netteltons was approached by Jabulani to represent him (i.e. was not appointed by Legal Aid).