Three men appear in court for torching Mpumalanga lodge.

A plush lodge in Mpumalanga’s Mthethomusha Game Reserve in Mpumalanga was torched last week. This after a poacher was shot within the lodge’s yard.  Steffen Schneier, director of the aha Bongani Mountain Lodge, said the apparent arson attack was under investigation by authorities.

Schneier said the incident happened after a poacher was shot by the anti-poaching unit, which resulted in a gang of armed men retaliating.

“A poacher was shot by the Mpumalanga parks anti-poaching unit and, on Friday night, the compound where the anti-poaching rangers stay was attacked by a gang of armed men. There was a firefight that lasted from early evening through to about 4am in the morning, when the anti-poaching unit ran out of ammunition.

“During that period there were frequent attempts to get the police to come to their assistance, but [they were] not successful,” he said.

Schneier said the lodge manager evacuated the lodge at midday on Sunday after getting a tip-off from the community that they would be targeted next.

“The rest of Saturday was very quiet and on Sunday morning, we received calls from friends in the community, saying that they heard that a group was going to be attacking the lodge. So the lodge manager evacuated the lodge at about midday on Sunday, and by 2pm the whole lodge was on fire,” said Schneier.

He said the lodge was completely destroyed, and people had been helping themselves to whatever was left.

“Whatever survived, basically, there have been people coming up with vans and just loading up whatever they can from what was burnt. We are out of business. Whether we can ever recover, I would doubt it. So the 80 people that worked for us this time last week no longer have work. There is also a huge impact on all our suppliers, laundry services, security services … It has very real consequences for ourselves and our employees, and people who were in business with us,” he said.

The lodge said that due to the damage to the property, no further reservations would be taken until further notice.

“For those with existing bookings in place, a member of the aha team will be in touch to make alternative arrangements,” said the lodge.

Mpumalanga police spokesperson, Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said a case of arson and tampering with government infrastructure has been opened. He said Pienaar police received information on January 28 that there was a murder at Mpakeni, where a man was shot dead. An investigation was then opened. At around 10pm next day, police received a call that the Bongani lodge was going to be vandalised by people from the Mpakeni village.

“Police were sent, but later that night they were told that some people damaged the Mpakeni gate and a case docket was opened in due course. Police patrolled the area the whole night,” Hlathi said.

He said police received reports on January 31 that people were moving to another gate at the reserve, and officers were deployed to monitor and deal with the situation.

“Police from Pienaar found that there were a number of people, and that prompted them to call for backup, where Kanyamazane and Kabokweni SAPS were summoned for the much-needed backup, as well as public order policing, who reported that they were still on their way from another engagement at Bushbuckridge,” he said.

Hlathi said that later that day, a senior member from Pienaar SAPS drove to the area and, on his arrival, found that the road that leads to the lodge was barricaded. He then helped to open it.

“However, while they were still busy with the opening of the road, they noticed that the lodge was on fire. All these incidents are being investigated by police, including the shooting incident that remains an allegation against the rangers,” he said.

Mpumalanga police have confirmed that three suspects, aged between 28 and 37 have since been arrested and are expected to appear in the Kanyamazane magistrate’s court for arson, possession of stolen goods and other crimes.

 

 

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