Game rangers in Swaziland shot dead a man hunting food for his family and wounded another in the latest example of the kingdom’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy against poachers.
The Swazi Observer newspaper reported on Wednesday (15 November 2017) the men begged for their lives but the rangers shot them anyway.
It happened near Somntongo in Lavumisa. The dead man was named as Caiphas Mpisi Zwane. The newspaper said he was in a hunting expedition with a friend Mxolisi Tebe Mbhamali on 10 November 2017.
The newspaper said, ‘It is said they were seen trespassing by rangers who then followed them as they were leaving with game that they had already killed.
‘Zwane was gunned down by the rangers while his friend also got shot but he managed to flee with the bullets lodged in one of his legs.’
The Observer said that following the recent drought that killed livestock people have been hunting game to survive and have been trespassing onto private land.
The newspaper said the two were spotted by rangers but it was too late for them to flee.
It added, ‘Having managed to apprehend the two poachers, it’s unclear what actually then led to the rangers decided to shoot them.
‘The two tried to reason with the rangers where they asked for forgiveness, but the rangers opened fire, hitting the target.’
It said, ‘Reports are that as the rangers opened fire which thundered all over the area, their bullets hit Zwane on the thigh and also riddled him near the stomach, killing him instantly.’
Other bullets hit Mbhamali on one of the legs but he managed to escape.
Police are reported to be investigating the incident.
In May 2017 it was reported that game rangers shot dead a ‘mentally challenged’ man they suspected of poaching at Inyoni Yami Swaziland Irrigation Scheme (IYSIS), Sihhoye. The Swazi Observer reported at the time rangers shot the man who had lived all his life on the roadside and was known to the rangers who assaulted him and ‘finished him off as he ran for dear life’.
The newspaper called it ‘cold blooded murder’.
It came at a time when a United Nations’ group was questioning Swaziland about a law that gives game rangers immunity from prosecution for killing any person suspected of having poached and just after Survival International reported Swaziland ‘appears’ to have a shoot-on-sight policy that allows game rangers to kill suspected poachers.
The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) questioned the Swazi Government about the Game Act (No. 51/1953) as amended in 1991, which gives conservation police personnel (game rangers) immunity from prosecution for killing any person suspected of having poached, in line with the Covenant, and to train game rangers in human rights.
In April 2017, Survival International wrote to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, saying Swaziland ‘appears’ to have a shoot-on-sight policy that allows game rangers to kill suspected poachers.
In its letter it said, ‘We say “appears” because usually the policy is not defined by any law, or even written down. As a consequence, nobody knows when wildlife officers are permitted to use lethal force against them, and it is impossible for dependents to hold to account officers whom they believe to have killed without good reason.’
Stephen Corry, Survival International Director, said the shoot-on-sight policy directly affected people who lived close to game parks and guards often failed to distinguish people hunting for food from commercial poachers.
There has been concern in Swaziland for many years that game rangers have immunity from prosecution and can legally ‘shoot-to-kill’.
In 2016, the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) reported to a United Nations review on human rights in Swaziland, ‘There are numerous cases where citizens are shot and killed by game rangers for alleged poaching as raised by community members in several communities such as Lubulini, Nkambeni, Nkhube, Malanti, Sigcaweni, and Siphocosini.’
In January 2014, Swaziland’s Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said rangers were allowed to shoot people who were hunting for food to feed their hungry families.
Magagula publicly stated, ‘Animals are now protected by law and hunting is no longer a free-for-all, where anybody can just wake up to hunt game whenever they crave meat.’
He told a meeting of traditional leaders in Swaziland, ‘Of course, it becomes very sad whenever one wakes up to reports that rangers have shot someone. These people are protected by law and it allows them to shoot, hence it would be very wise of one to shun away from trouble.’
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