By ROD AMNER, ZANELE GINISE and ASIVE NGXOWENI
Two Seven Fountains children were playing on a fine October Sunday when they saw a suspicious-looking man hiding behind a tree. They decided to go home to inform their mom.
They were unaware that the man was Zimbabwe national Trymore Chauke, a convicted rhino poacher and one of seven dangerous criminals who had recently escaped from the Makhanda Correctional Centre.
The children’s mother alerted three other locals before setting off to investigate.
Chauke emerged from the trees when he saw the group approaching.
“Where are you from, and why are you hiding?” they asked him. But, one of the adults had already recognised Chauke from a photograph circulated on social media.
Chauke said he was from Mozambique and had missed a bus to Gqeberha. “I am hungry. Please don’t call the police – and please don’t beat me up,” he pleaded.
Realising something was amiss, the group talked him into getting onto the back of a bakkie. They took a photo of him. And they drove to the Seven Fountains police station under the guise of buying him food.
When the local police were unresponsive, they called the Makhanda police instead, who recognised him immediately from the photo.
Chauke was kept contained for an hour before the police arrived and arrested him.
This account of these extraordinary events was related to Grocott’s Mail reporters when they joined a celebratory braai at Seven Fountains on Tuesday, 8 November, sponsored by the Indalo Private Game Reserves Association, with food and drink donations from Pick n Pay in Makhanda.
The children were lauded as community heroes and presented with gifts, including a lifetime’s supply of school uniforms.
Another quick-thinking member of the group that arrested Chauke was gifted a cash reward.
The hapless Chauke was one of a group of seven prisoners – including five convicted rhino poachers -who escaped from Waainek prison on 18 October using a hacksaw to cut through the window bars of a cell.
Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Majola Nkohli said at about 4 am, an officer arrived for standby duties when she saw lights on in one of the units.
Five of the seven had been convicted of charges related to rhino poaching on 30 September and were awaiting sentencing.
Another of the poachers, Simba Masinga, was re-arrested in the bush around Committees Drift on Wednesday, 19 October, by a joint task team between the SAPS and Correctional Service officers, according to Nkohli.
It was initially reported that another of the escapees – Zimbabwean national Bennet Kwarrile, detained for housebreaking, theft and attempted murder – had been arrested late on Tuesday, 18 October, after being knocked over by a car in Bloemfontein.
However, in a bizarre twist to the story, this Tuesday eNCA reported that the police had admitted to catching the wrong man.
Eastern Cape police say they’ve launched an investigation into how they managed to arrest the wrong person and why it took so long to correct their mistake.
Kwarrile and four other escaped prisoners – Nhamo Muyambo, Francis Chitho, Abraham Moyane and South African Luvuyo September – are still at large.
Police urged communities to continue alerting them about suspicious persons in their neighbourhoods so that the remaining escapees could be re-arrested.
Over 100 Seven Fountains residents, including dozens of children, attended the celebratory braai at the village’s sports grounds on Tuesday.
Seven Fountains is about 30km southeast of Makhanda along the N2 to Gqeberha.
Lalibela manager Rob Gradwell praised the community for their bravery and level-headedness in capturing Chauke.
“They went above and beyond. We are surrounded by doom and gloom, so we decided to celebrate this success. This is one of the bright lights!” he said.
“The whole investigation and prosecution of the poachers took a lot of labour and a lot of hours. To eventually get a conviction at the end of it was great. But, then, to have them escape from custody was really depressing.”
Lalibela is an upmarket game reserve over the road from the Seven Fountains community and is a member of Indalo, an association of eight Eastern Cape private reserves. Over 100 Seven Fountains residents work either at Lalibela or nearby Pumba Game Reserve.
“Poaching is a huge threat to all our livelihoods. We have had some success in countering poaching, but I don’t think anybody can rest on their laurels. The community’s layer of protection certainly helps tremendously,” Gradwell said.
Gradwell’s wife Charmain runs after-school activities at the sports grounds. She helps with homework, supervises games and cooks food for local children in the afternoons.
Lalibela sank boreholes for the community, the Pumba Foundation built a creche with the help of the Pumba Private Game Reserve, and the community hall is being renovated.