A Zimbabwean man will spend the next year of his life locked up in prison after pleading guilty to unlawful possession of a pangolin.
It could have been much worse for 34-year-old Mthulisi Sibanda as he was actually given a four-year punishment, only for the Magistrate to wholly suspend three of the years during Thursday’s sentencing.
Along with Raymond Malhangu, 25, Sibanda was arrested in Francistown on 18 July, turned into the cops by their fellow countryman, Johnson Maphosa.
The 37-year-old had been caught red-handed by the boys in blue the previous night, busted in the bush around Gerald with a 25kg white sack containing a live pangolin.
The police were investigating reports of illegal mining in the area, sending out a helicopter to scour the location.
During the search, the helicopter’s lights revealed three startled men hiding in the bush.
Although two managed to escape, Maphosa, weighed down by the pangolin, was nabbed before he could flee.
Upon his capture, he told the police the rare animal, which is regarded as a government trophy and highly protected, belonged to one of the men who had run away.
The following day, Sibanda was tracked down and arrested. He admitted the pangolin was his, claiming to have been given the mammal by an unknown man he met at Nyangabgwe hospital.
Keen not to waste the court’s time, he pleaded guilty to capturing a protected game animal.
All three men were slapped with an additional charge of entering the country illegally.
Pleading for mercy, Sibanda pointed out, “I did not waste court’s precious time and expenses instead I pleaded guilty to my charges, I plead that court consider that when sentencing me. I also promise this honorable court not to do anything against the law.”
For his part, Mahlangu said he had learnt a valuable lesson and was a reformed man.
He will have ample time for further reflection as, along with Maphose, he received a nine-month jail term for being in Botswana unlawfully – a crime for which, Sibanda was given a year.
However, Francistown Magistrate, Thapelo Buang ruled this would run concurrently with the pangolin sentence, meaning Sibanda will effectively be out three months after his home boys.