Update: Key “Musina Mafia” figure jailed for ten years

22 November, 2012

A key figure in the so-called “Musina Mafia”, Rodgers Mukwena, has been jailed for ten years after pleading guilty to the illegal possession of rhino horn. It is the maximum sentence allowable under South African law for a first-time offender in this category of crime. But while the Zimbabwean teacher-turned-poacher may have been a first-time offender in South Africa, he was notorious in southern Zimbabwe for his links to zebra and rhino poaching.

He was arrested in January 2012 in remarkable circumstances in northern Pretoria, hundreds of kilometres from his home in the village of Mpande in southern Zimbabwe. Police discovered three horns  in Mukwena’s possession. DNA tests later linked them to a poaching incident in which a white rhino cow and a calf had been brutally killed.

Testifying in aggravation of sentence the police investigating officer, Captain Charmaine Swart, told the court: “We feel like we are fighting a losing battle for our natural heritage because of the way rhinos are being slaughtered.

“At this rate, by 2015, growth rate of (rhino population) won’t be sustainable. More rhinos will be killed than born”.

Here’s an extract about Mukwena from  Killing for Profit:

“As you drive into the village, one house stands out among all the others. There’s a stone wall around it. Although it is not a particularly prepossessing place, in Mpande’s impoverished surroundings it signals money. It is the house Mukwena built, allegedly on the proceeds of zebra skin and rhino horn.

Mukwena was a teacher before he became a poacher. When Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed in the late 1990s, he, like so many others, found himself trying to survive on a salary that amounted to little more than $100 a month. It wasn’t long before he picked up a rifle.

‘Mukwena’s a bright guy,’ English says. ‘Unlike the others, he’s done all right. The rest have come out of it with nothing. But he’s got a couple of houses in Beitbridge that he rents out. By local standards, he’s well off.’

In 2005 Mukwena was arrested in Mpande along with several other men. Two .303 hunting rifles – the serial numbers removed – were found, along with zebra and lion skins and pangolin scales. There were bags of skinning salt and brine bins in which to prepare the skins. Despite the evidence, the case never went to trial. There were suspicions that a cop, a prosecutor or even a magistrate had been paid off to quash the charges.” 

For more on the incredible stroke of luck that led to Mukwena’s arrest in South Africa and his links to the “Musina Mafia”, read Chapters 1 and 12 of Killing for Profit.

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