Monday, January 20, 2014


King Mswati III of Swaziland has given game rangers permission to shoot-to-kill people suspected of poaching wildlife on the monarch’s land and protects them from prosecution for murder in some circumstances.

Ted Reilly, the chief executive of Big Game Parks (BGP), which runs the major national parks in Swaziland on behalf of the King, holds a Royal Warrant to allow him to shoot-to-kill.

He has had this for at least ten years. In 2004 Reilly appeared in a documentary produced by Journeyman Pictures in which he spoke of his relationship to the King and showed his warrant on camera.

The documentary commentator said, ‘He [the King] gave Ted a Royal Warrant that allowed him to arrest and if necessary shoot-to-kill the poachers.’

The commentator added, ‘The Royal Warrant, still in force today, protects rangers from prosecution for murder as long as the poacher draws his weapon first.’

Reilly said, ‘It is the biggest honour that you could possibly imagine.’

Reilly showed the documentary makers a specially-made fort with gun turrets, where rangers can hide to shoot at poachers. He also showed surveillance towers. ‘From here, we go out, we launch attacks,’ he said.

On camera, Reilly said the automatic weapons his rangers used against poachers, ‘are much smaller than the AK-47, but are equally as devastating. You don’t survive one of those shots if it hits you properly.’

Reilly told the documentary, ‘Our guys aren’t to be messed with. If they [poachers] come after rhino they’re going to get hurt, and if he gets killed or maimed, well, you know, who’s to blame for that?’

In a post on its own website as recently as 30 October 2013, BGP said, ‘a zero tolerance towards poaching must be exercised’.

This news comes as an impoverished unarmed local man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, aged 21, died of gunshot wounds last Sunday (12 January 2014). He had been shot by a ranger outside of the Mkhaya Nature Reserve. His family, who live at Sigcaweni just outside the reserve’s borders, said he had not been poaching.

BGP owns and manages Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Nature Reserve.  It also manages Hlane National Park, the kingdom’s largest protected area, held in trust for the Nation by the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Swaziland has a long history of killings by rangers of local people. Campaigners say poor people are not poaching large game, such as the endangered black rhinos, but go hunting animals, such as warthogs, as food to feed themselves and their families. Hunger and malnutrition are widespread in Swaziland where seven in ten of King Mswati’s subjects live in abject poverty. Many are forced to become hunters and gatherers to avoid starvation.

International attention has focussed on the many human rights violations committed against local people who live close to the King’s game reserves.

A report on human rights in Swaziland published by the US State Department said that on July 10 2010, in Mlawula ‘rangers shot and killed Lucky Matsenjwa, who was suspected of poaching. Matsenjwa reportedly was unarmed’.

It also reported, ‘On April 10 [2010], police stopped approximately 50 persons from traveling to the kaShoba constituency to discuss the problem of violence by game park rangers against alleged poachers.’

In 2008, a young Swazi man, Musa Gamedze, was hunted down and executed in broad daylight at his home, in full view of his children.  The campaign group Friends of the Earth reported at the time that eyewitnesses said the man who fired the fatal shot was a manager at a local private game reserve. The manager was accompanied by three police officers.  

Musa Gamedze was part of a community that was forcibly evicted, without compensation, by BGP from land they had lived on for more than four decades.

Friends of the Earth is also campaigning against the Game Act 1991 which allows game rangers, ‘to arrest without a warrant any person suspected upon reasonable grounds’ to have been poaching on a reserve. The rangers can make arrests up to one mile from the boundary of the game reserve.

Ted Reilly, the chief executive of BGP, was described by Inter Press Services as, ‘One of the architects of the Game Act’.

In its 2012 report on human rights in Swaziland, Amnesty International said a Swazi parliamentary committee had investigated alleged brutality by game rangers against suspected poachers. Its conclusions and recommendations to parliament listed nine incidents of deaths and injuries against game rangers and 33 against suspected poachers.

‘Some suspected poachers injured by game rangers were then prosecuted under the Game Act (as amended). No game rangers were prosecuted for fatal or non-fatal shootings. The committee recommended urgent reform of clauses in the Game Act (as amended), which could be interpreted to “condone brutality towards suspect poachers”,’ Amnesty reported.

There are numerous incidents involving rangers shooting local people. One reported by international media in 2011concerned a 16-year-old boy who was shot in the back by a ranger. The teenager, who as a minor cannot be named, told the AFP news agency he and two friends were walking outside the perimeter of the southern Mkhaya Reserve when rangers gave chase.

He said they shot him in the back. ‘I am angry. If only they could have warned us first maybe I would have understood,’ he told AFP.

BGP spokesman Mike Richardson told AFP the shooting occurred after dark inside the park. Rangers could not be certain if the boys were armed.

AFP reported at the time, BGP has a close relationship to Swazi Royalty that goes back to the 1960s.  ‘The parks provide the royal clan with a steady supply of animal pelts for the many traditional ceremonies that mark the Swazi calendar.

‘King Mswati III has entrusted the company to enforce Swaziland’s anti-poaching law to protect “royal game”,’ AFP reported.

In April 2010, Swazi lawyer Thuli Makama won a prestigious environmental award, the Goldman Environmental Prize, for her work exposing the extra-judicial killings of suspected poachers by game rangers.

Makama, head of the Swazi environmental group Yonge Nawe, told the BBC at the time the problem of rangers ‘overstepping’ their powers occurred mostly in private game reserves.

‘We are seeing incidents where people are being pursued to their homes,’ she said. ‘Where people are taken from their houses and all sorts of things are done to them.’

Makama said while researching a documentary about local communities, she discovered at least 20 cases of suspected poachers who had been killed or maimed.

Makama said suspected poachers should be arrested and ‘taken through the due process of law.  There are many illegal acts that should not mean you are tried, sentenced and executed at the scene.’

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