On the 15th of July 2011, the Excelsior News reported on timber theft and now they have finally been brought to justice as 22 suspects were arrested for their involvement in scrupulously stealing timber from surrounding plantations.
Initial investigations were launched in October 2010 when companies and private individuals noted an increase in timber theft from their plantations and on the 6th and 7th of July, 2011, the suspects were arrested. According to the article published in 2011, there were three groups identified in the syndicate: the organisers, the receivers and the harvesters. Investigators determined that these operations were perfectly planned and executed.
One cannot easily see that the plantation has been cut as the perpetrators only cut every second tree at knee height. The damage only becomes visible when you enter the centre of the plantation. According to the investigators, no tree over 6-years old was cut down. Normally, the industry will only harvest the trees at 10-years of age.
When the trees were stolen, the company was forced to cut down the remaining trees to keep the plantation balanced. Trials to bring these culprits to justice have been ongoing since July 2011. Through the hard work and determination of a highly qualified team of investigators, the last day of trial was on Friday, the 21st of July 2017. Of 22 original arrests, 5 criminals received jail sentences.
They continued to plead not guilty, but through the cross examinations and endless investigations, these men were all found guilty and were sentenced by District Magistrate W.J. Wilken, on Friday, the 21st of July. Attorneys and advocates had the opportunity to ask for extenuating circumstances on Thursday, the 20th of July for each of their clients. The court heard the convicted person’s personal circumstances and reasons as to why they are pleading for lighter sentences.
The court heard that the perpetrators must be brought to justice and that it was definitely not small money involved in these cases. These criminals went to great extremes to conduct these operations. Spotters were used to identify areas where they could easily steal the timber. They used the forest and the darkness of night to conceal themselves. It was also confirmed that police members were involved in these criminal activities and security guards were misleaded in order to access without being detected.
It was also mentioned that they showed no remorse for their actions throughout the trial and that they were only sorry for being caught out. If they pleaded guilty when the trial commenced, a suspended sentences might have been an option. The Magistrate added that there are currently three timber theft cases in the region of Mkhondo. In one of these cases, the four accused are facing charges of theft. This is a clear indication that timber theft is an enormous problem in our area.
David M. Ngwenya was found guilty on two counts of timber theft amounting to R60 000-00 and was charged with a R70 000-00 fine or 3 years imprisonment, with another 3 years suspended for 5 years. Vusi Twala was convicted on 5 counts of theft, valued at R172 754-00 and was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment with another 3 years suspended for 5 years.
David M. Lukhele was found guilty on 5 counts of theft, valued at R165 000-00 and received the same sentence as Mr Twala. Mfana P. Mzezane was recognized as one of the main role players in the operation and was found guilty on 5 counts of timber theft, valued at R150 00-00. He received 6 years imprisonment with 3 years suspended for 5 years.
Nathi Nkosi was convicted on 2 counts of timber theft, valued at R57 500- 00 and received 5 years imprisonment. Mphile Ngwenya was also found guilty on 2 counts of theft, valued at R52 500-00 and also received 5 years imprisonment.
With regard to the other culprits who were arrested when the investigation commenced:
- M. Mtshali – Deceased S. Nkosi – A warrant for his arrest has been issued as he ran away during the arrest
- S. Mathe – Pleaded guilty and was discharged by the court
- K. Nkosi – His case was withdrawn and he was found not guilty
- M. Ngwenya – Deceased P. Mhlotshwa – Was found not guilty
- V. Lukhele – His case was withdrawn and he was discharged by the court
- F.W. Lukhele – Deceased B. Hadebe – Found not guilty
- T.A. Motshopi – Pleaded guilty and was fined R30 000-00 or 3 years imprisonment with an extra 7 years, suspended for 5 years
- P. Myawo – Pleaded guilty and was discharged by the court M.D. Vallabh – Discharged by the court
- R. Hansjie – Discharged by the court
- O.W. Tsotetsi – Case was withdrawn
- M.N. Nxumalo – Illegal immigrant who was deported
The police seized items during the arrests including trucks, weapons, cellphones and stolen timber poles. During the sentence, the prosecutor requested that the remaining items at the SAPS 13, need to be submitted to the state.
The court was notified about two trucks and timber poles and the Magistrate forfeited the poles to the state. The trucks are still in question as they do not belong to one of the convicts and proof of ownership is still pending. The community of Mkhondo can be certain that justice has been served in this matter. Thank you to each and every one who was involved in this case.
Thank you to Magistrate Wilken for returning from pension to handle this court case and for the utmost professionalism in which he conducted the court proceedings. This also goes as a warning to culprits involved in illegal activities – in the end, you will be caught and brought to justice!