WHITE RIVER – “The epitome of innocence” is one phrase that would accurately describe Petrus Sydney Mabuza’s portrayal of himself. A lot has happened to him since June 12. On that day, he allegedly transacted with undercover police and received two rhino horns. His properties were searched before he was arrested and charged with crimes ranging from rhino horn theft to the illegal possession of rifles and live ammunition.
Mabuza appeared in the White River Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. He is in the process of applying for bail even though he faces a schedule-five charge – theft of rhino horn worth R900 000.According to senior state advocate Vernon Nemaorani, this places the onus on Mabuza to prove exceptional circumstances that would justify his release on bail. Investigating officer Col Johan Jooste believes that this will not be in the interests of justice.
He described Mabuza as crucial to the functioning of poaching syndicates in the Lowveld.When Mabuza (also known as “Mr Big”) was escorted from the court’s holding cell to the accused’s dock, he was met with a gallery full of supporters. He was clearly irritated by the media’s presence and instructed his legal representative, advocate SJ Coetzee, to do something about the nuisance. Coetzee’s attempt failed and a resigned Mabuza looked straight ahead.
He seemed calm and had a relaxed demeanour throughout the day.When court adjourned, “Mr Big” moved from the accused’s dock to a more com-fortable padded leather chair. Magistrate NS Masango enquired about this and Coetzee explained that his client was in pain and experienced discomfort in the dock.
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“He sustained serious injuries in a motor vehicle accident and 46 to 49 per cent of his body has been impaired,” Coetzee said while gesturing towards his client’s crutches. Coetzee proceeded to read an affidavit signed by Mabuza providing details about the man that has been compared to “Big Joe” Nyalungu, an alleged poaching kingpin who has been on trial since 2011. He was born in 1969 and has always been a Lowvelder. Mabuza inherited his parents’ liquor store and built his fortune through stokvel endeavours, a money lending business and in the taxi industry.
He runs a pension paypoint and a trucking and plant hire business known as Vukani Nonke.It was recorded that “Mr Big” is an avid traveller and that he enjoys overseas trips, but that he would be willing to turn in his passport if the court grant him bail. In this respect, Jooste drily commented, “The accused’s medical position is noted. It was stated that he cannot be in certain positions for a long period of time. Yet he has embarked on long flights since his 2015 accident to Mauritius and Thailand. Considering how long those flights take, I’d say his uncomfortability intolerance is up there.”
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According to his affidavit, Mabuza is a squeaky clean businessman with nothing to hide. He has eight children, of which four are minors, and financially supports a handful of other minors. He has one previous conviction after illegally possessing a weapon in the 1990s. Mabuza denied being involved in rhino poaching. “He intends to plead not guilty and to clear his name,” stated Coetzee.