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Minister marches for rhino law reform

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Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs joined the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER) in Pretoria on Saturday causing conservationists to wonder if her presence signals a stronger stance on rhino poaching and whether it will have any bearing in the bail applications of alleged rhino poacher Hugo Ras and his co-accused in the Pretoria Magistrates Court today. Four of the ten accused were refused bail last week.

Thousands gathered to march for the protection of elephants and rhinos in over 130 cities around the world, but not enough attention has been paid to the purpose of the march – to hand over a document calling for stricter sentencing and discretionary granting of bail to those accused of crimes relating to rhinos, elephants and other threatened or endangered species (TOPS).

The Proposed Amendments to South African Legislation (PALSA) for government, which can be found on the GMFER website, was delivered to South African embassies in participating countries and various South African judicial, political and environmental departments.

“Bail of suspected poachers is granted too easily, resulting in dockets going missing, suspects never appearing in court and sometimes bail is given for as little as R1500…If no bail is granted, the legal system works much faster and cases appear far quicker. When bail is granted, cases can take a few years to come up,” says GMFER organiser Dex Kotze.

In an effort to bolster South African laws on wildlife crime and urge action from government, the proposal calls on South Africa’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and various stakeholders to institute the “Minimum Sentences Act” on crimes related to threatened species and includes a proposal to categorise these activities as Schedule 5 offences.

For Schedule 5 offences the accused are detained in custody and not granted bail.

This move would prescribe a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for criminal activities involving rhinoceros, elephant, or threatened or endangered species with a value of R100 000 or more.

According to Albi Modise, Spokesperson for the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, Minister Molewa received the proposed amendments in Pretoria on Saturday and Fundisile Mketeni, Deputy Director-General of Biodiversity and Conservation received the proposal at Parliament, in Cape Town.

A Memorandum of Demand calling for a ban on trade in wildlife parts, the shutting down of retail outlets dealing in ivory and rhino horn, stricter legislation and more political will was distributed to Chinese embassies.

Hugo Ras and his nine co-accused face 318 rhino poaching charges which include racketeering, theft, fraud, poaching, illegal possession of scheduled veterinarian drugs, contravention of environmental laws and illegal possession of ivory and rhino horn.

Main Photo: (Elise Tempelhoff)

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