The 45-year-old Jacques Els had to start serving his four-year sentence.
Date: 22 November 2018 By: Jo Robinson
The 45-year-old Jacques Els, who was found guilty of possession and dealing in rhino horn without the required permits as a result of a plea bargain in March 2012, appeared in the Louis Trichardt Regional court on 15 November to receive his final sentence.
Els spent five months imprisoned by the Department of Correctional Services in Anderson Street after being ordered to begin serving his original sentence immediately in July 2012. He was then let out on bail of R4 million in December of the same year, awaiting the outcome of his appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein. At the time, he said that he held no “feelings of hatred towards anyone” because of the time he had had to spend behind bars. He said that he was elated to be going home, and that his time behind bars was the best thing that could have happened to him because that time had brought him closer to God.
Els’s original sentence was eight years jail time, an additional suspended sentence, as well as a fine of R1 million to be paid to the Green Scorpions. In his plea bargain, he explained that he had bought the rhino horns with the intention to sell them later if the ban on dealing in rhino horn was lifted. Els bought them from his co-accused, Tom Fourie (51), who committed suicide in 2010. He said that the rhinos had been tranquilised and their horns harvested. Not one had been killed, according to Els. He said that he believed that his actions had ensured that the rhinos were not targeted by poachers. His plan was to apply for permits later, but before he could do that, the horns were stolen from his home in Thabazimbi during September 2010.
After hearing Els’s case, the Appeal Court judges agreed that the Louis Trichardt Regional Court had made an error. According to them, the magistrate had accepted that the rhinos had been illegally hunted and killed for their horns rather than being tranquillised. “The Regional Court made a mistake in handling Els as if he was a poacher that killed rhinos, which he was not.” They reduced his sentence to four years and repealed the R1 million fine to the Green Scorpions.
Even though the judges did not agree with the eight-year jail sentence, they did agree with Magistrate Pat Cloete, who said that, regardless of whether people killed rhinos for their horns or possessed their horns illegally to make a profit, this behaviour was reprehensible and contributed to the destruction of South Africa’s wildlife. “Illegal activities such as those that Els took part in fuels the illegal international trade in rhino horn,” added the Appeal Court.
The national prosecuting authority brought an application ordering Els to begin serving the balance of his sentence, but his defence team requested time to 17 March 2017 to bring the needed documents to the court. Magistrate PV Mudau accepted their request and said that bail would be left in place as a lower court could not overturn a High Court judgement. Els told the Zoutpansberger outside the court at that time that he was very relieved that he did not have to go straight back to jail. With no further legal delays possible last week, however, Els started serving his sentence.
The illegal trade in rhino horn continues apace, with 13 horns sent from South Africa in October this year being confiscated in Vietnam, according to Reuters, hard on the heels of the seizure of more than a ton of illicitly sent wildlife “products” that were also sent from this country. After an announcement in October from China that it was going to allow the use of rhino horn and tiger bones and parts for “scientific, medical and cultural” purposes caused a worldwide uproar, the country has since postponed the lifting of their current ban (imposed in 1993) on such use of these animals.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.