Farm attack gun used for poaching
9 July, 2010
Julian Rademeyer, Beeld
Johannesburg – A Winchester hunting rifle stolen during a violent farm attack in Limpopo has provided a vital link between the so-called “Musina mafia”, rhino poachers operating in southern Zimbabwe and criminal gangs trading in stolen weapons.
The .375 rifle with the serial number G1179783 was seized by Zimbabwean police on April 19 near the Bubye Valley Conservancy, about 90km from the Beitbridge border with South Africa. It had been fitted with a custom-made silencer. Silencers are illegal in Zimbabwe.
Among the six suspects arrested was Andrew Bvute, a veterinary officer with the Zimbabwean directorate for disease control who has been linked to previous poaching incidents. He was carrying the rifle when police arrested him and claimed it had been given to him by Musina hunter Johan Roos to shoot rhino. He later retracted this statement. Bvute was fined only $100 and released.
Beeld traced the weapon to a Limpopo family who were attacked on the farm Nekel, situated 4km from the Mapungubwe archaeological site, on May 8 last year. The victims, Faan Lemmer snr, 91, his son Faan jnr, 67, and his wife Christie, 60, were terrorised by four armed men for nearly three hours.
“They beat me to a pulp,” Lemmer jnr recalled in an interview with Beeld. “There was blood everywhere. We were very negligent. Everything was open, but for 41 years it wasn’t necessary to lock the doors.” He and his wife lived in a large flat below the main the house where his father lived.
“I had just finished showering and went up to see what was happening at the house. When I walked inside, I saw my father’s light was burning. He was supposed to be asleep already. I went to look and there stood four men. They had already attacked his father.
“He is deaf and can’t hear anything. He didn’t have a clue what was going on and couldn’t understand their questions. They hit him on his left leg. They didn’t say a word when I arrived. One of them took my arm and they led me out of the house. When I reached the back stoep, they started hitting me. I think it was with an iron bar. I passed out. When I came to, I was covered in blood.”
The men demanded “lots of money” and warned: “If you make a noise, we will kill you.” Said Lemmer: “I knew if I didn’t play along, I was dead.”
Lemmer’s wife was also tied up. Her hands were bound in front of her. She managed to conceal a small knife under a cardboard box. The men emptied two gun safes in the main house, taking a pistol and five hunting rifles. They also helped themselves to money, alcohol, R13 000, a camera and car keys.
In an effort to win them over Lemmer lied and said he had voted for the ANC. “Fuck the ANC,” one of the men said bluntly. Thirty minutes after the attackers left, Lemmer’s wife cut him free. They spent an uneasy night, waiting for daybreak, before venturing out. Farm workers found them at 07:00 the next day. Faan jnr needed 15 stitches to close the wound in his scalp.
“My arm was yellow and blue for months. I think I tried to block when they hit me.”
A day later, police arrested a 26-year-old Zimbabwean, Stephen Moleya, and recovered three of the weapons. But a 9mm pistol and two hunting rifles, a 30-06 and the .375 had vanished without trace.
Investigators believe the .375 was fitted with a silencer in South Africa. Two Limpopo gun shop owners have been linked to the “Musina mafia”. Their names are known to Beeld.
On April 17 this year, according to a report filed with the Mwenezi Criminal Investigations Division (CID) in Zimbabwe, anti-poaching teams at the Bubye Valley Conservancy picked up the spoor of two poachers heading into the bush.
Later, the four occupants of a white double-cab bakkie that had been spotted parked on a road near the conservancy were detained and questioned by police.
They alleged that Musina hunter Johan Roos had been with them earlier in the day and identified the vehicle he was driving as a white single-cab Ford Ranger. They said he had hurriedly driven away after noticing a Land Cruiser with CID officers patrolling in the area. The men were taken into custody and the vehicle impounded.
Two days later, trackers followed the spoor of the two poachers as they backtracked their way out of the conservancy. CID detectives were alerted and drove to the area in the impounded bakkie. There they waited. Eventually two men emerged from the bush, one of them carrying a .375 silenced rifle.
The two poachers – who were expecting the pick-up vehicle to be there – were caught by surprise by the undercover police and arrested. The gunman carrying the rifle was later identified as Bvute.
In recent months, authorities in southern Zimbabwe have seized a .303 rifle fitted with a silencer and another, with a barrel threaded for a silencer, that was hidden in a secret compartment in the tailgate of a Gauteng registered bakkie.
Blondie Leathem, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s poaching wars and manager of Mazunga Safaris, which is based in the conservancy, told Beeld: “When one of the scouts fired the .303 it sounded like a .22. It muffled the blast nearly completely and the crack that followed was the round breaking the sound barrier. “It was a very sophisticated thing, made by an armourer and custom fitted.”