Eleven people, including two veterinarians, a pilot and a game farmer, all allegedly part of a “callous” rhino poaching syndicate, were granted bail in the Musina Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
“The accused are alleged to be part of a syndicate which operates around Polokwane, Modimolle and Musina, and have been involved in rhino poaching, killing, selling of the horns, as well as disposing of the carcasses of the rhinos,” NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said.
Looking tense, the accused were crammed into the dock while photographers — some of whom had earlier been  detained by police for taking their photographs — snapped their pictures.
Most of the men were wearing khaki shirts and denims.
Sariette Groenewald, wearing a striped dress, stood next to her game farmer husband, Dawie Groenewald, while Mariza Toet, a petite blonde dressed in a polka dot top, was wedged between her veterinarian husband Karel Toet, and his colleague, Manie du Plessis, the two alleged masterminds.
Groenewald was set the highest bail amount — R1 million — his wife was released on R100,000, Toet on R50,000, and his wife on R20,000 bail.
Du Plessis, professional hunter Tielman Roos Erasmus, Dewald Gouws, Nardus Rossouw, Leon van der Merwe, and Jacobus Martinus Pronk were released on R20,000 bail each, and Paul Matomela on R5000.
Their bail conditions included that they refrain from tampering with 32 rhinos currently on Groenewald’s game farm, Pragtig, in Musina.
Family members relieved audible sighs of relief when the accused were granted bail.
Court proceedings, which were in Afrikaans and Sotho, were delayed in the morning amid reports that the police had made more arrests.
On Monday, nine of the accused were arrested in early morning raids, with national police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo announcing it was believed they had been involved “in several hundred incidents of rhino poaching over the past years”.
Two more arrests were made on Wednesday.
Naidoo described the alleged actions by the accused as a “callous massacre of rhinoceros”.
“From January this year to date, 204 rhinos were mercilessly killed compared to 122 for the whole of last year, which is indicative of the enormity of the problem,” said Naidoo.
The NPA’s Mhaga said the group faced charges ranging from “assault, defeating the ends of justice, fraud, corruption, malicious injury to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, contravention of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, No 10 of 2010 (NEMBA), contravention in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act, No 101 of 1965; as well as contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, No 121
of 1998.”
Their first court appearance happened on International Rhino day and on the same day that the World Wildlife Fund launched its “Make a noise for rhino day” initiative in support of the country’s “rhino warriors” — the men and women who risk their lives daily fighting gangs running the illegal rhino horn trade.
The case was postponed to April 11.