Game rangers in Swaziland reportedly shot dead a man who was handcuffed in another case that underlines the zero-tolerance, shoot-to-kill policy against poachers in the kingdom.
The Sunday Observer newspaper reported (14 January 2018) that the latest shooting involved a man identified only as Zwane. He died on the spot after being shot in the abdomen at close range while handcuffed by rangers.
It happened at a private farm known as ka Skeepers in Lavumisa. The newspaper reported two men had been found loitering next to the farm around 1am and in possession of two protected game, namely inyala and a wild bird. The other man was shot in both legs but survived his injuries and is in Mbabane Government Hospital awaiting an operation to remove about 13 small bullet pellets of a 12 bore shotgun from his right leg.
The man, Mxolisi Mbhamali, aged 22, of Lavumisa told the newspaper he and Zwane had been poaching and were outside of the farm when trouble started.
The newspaper reported him saying, ‘We were outside of the farm and inspecting our car which had developed mechanical faults. As we were still busy with the car, we saw two people approaching us and Zwane whistled to alert them to assist us with the vehicle. Little did we know that the people we were alerting were actually farm rangers. There were three of them, two were carrying guns while the other a sjambok. Zwane was carrying a gun and they confiscated it from him before handcuffing us.’
The newspaper reported, ‘Mbhamali said while they were still pleading with the rangers to forgive and let them go, one of them pulled the trigger and shot Zwane on the abdomen at close range.’
Mbhamali said, ‘Zwane fell into the ground and the ranger turned and shot me on both legs several times. I rolled on the ground and disappeared into the thick bushes. I thereafter heard them calling the police on their mobile phones.’
Shootings by game rangers in Swaziland have attracted international attention. In 2017 a United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) questioned Swaziland about a law that gives game rangers immunity from prosecution for killing any person suspected of having poached and Survival International reported Swaziland ‘appears’ to have a shoot-on-sight policy that allows game rangers to kill suspected poachers.
The HRC asked the Swaziland Government to explain 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 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 terms of Section 23 (3) [of the Game Act] game rangers are immune from prosecution for killing suspected poachers and empowered to use firearm in the execution of their duties and to search without warrant,’ SCCCO told the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland in a report.
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.
Commissioner 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.’
His comments came after an impoverished unarmed local man, Thembinkosi Ngcamphalala, aged 21, died of gunshot wounds. 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.
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.
King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has given game rangers permission to shoot-to-kill people suspected of poaching wildlife on his land and protects them from prosecution for murder in some circumstances.
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