Sept 16 2019
URGENT APPEAL: Signing and supporting this petition is the most important thing you could ever do to help rhinos in the Kruger National Park and surrounding rhino reserves.
The decision has been made – very quietly – to close Skukuza Regional Court, a symbol of justice for rhinos and the rangers and law enforcement officials who work so hard to protect them. Please join us, International Rhino Foundation Save the Rhino International Chipembere Rhino Foundation Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary Project Rhino Game Rangers Association of Africa Save the Waterberg Rhino to help save Skukuza Regional Court. #SaveSkukuzaCourt
Sept 20 2019
RESISTANCE: because if we fight we might lose but if we don’t fight we have already lost.
THANK YOU to everyone who has signed and shared the petition and to the media who have picked up on the story. The powers that be are now fully aware of the attempt to QUIETLY close Skukuza Regional Court.
From Landé Willemse’s article in the Lowvelder this morning: Chrispin Phiri, spokesman for the justice ministry, said they had no knowledge of the decision, and expected full disclosure.
“We have made the minister aware of this motion of closing down the court and had put a temporary stop on the closing of Skukuza Court until we can get behind the reasons why the decision was made.”
Phiri said they understood how important this court is.
The judge president of Mpumalanga, Judge Francis Legodi, said he had started an investigation into the matter. “The issue of closure of Skukuza Court has been brought to my attention and I am presently consulting with relevant stakeholders concerning the alleged closure of the court. I may mention it has always been my view that courts must be brought closer to the victims of crime for obvious reasons, and this is still my view, which has been made clear to relevant stakeholders in the past.
“For this, I would still prefer Skukuza Court to continue to operate in Skukuza. However, a final decision in this regard will be taken once I have consulted with other stakeholders.”
Ike Phaahla, spokesman for SANParks, said they were investigating. “We have heard of the rumour and are working closely with the judge president to investigate the matter.”
A temporary stop to the closing of the court is a significant step in the right direction and gives us time to keep collecting signatures. The court is obliged to take public sentiment into account, so LETS KEEP GOING!!!
Sept 29 2019
Thank you Judge President Francis Legodi for stepping in and closing the gaps!
Business as usual at Skukuza Court
Skukuza Regional Court role players were on Wednesday officially informed that a moratorium has been placed on the decision to move the court more than 90 kilometres away.
Our petition is heading for 17 000 signatures and will keep going until the court is safe.
Dec 3 2019
Skukuza Regional Court update: Judge President of Mpumalanga, Judge Francis Legodi, during a “heated meeting” on Friday, repeated his instructions that Skukuza Regional Court must continue as usual.
Bravo Sir, and thank you to all who attended in support of the Regional Court staying in in Skukuza. Our petition to save the court will stay open should this matter escalate. 105 000 signatures and counting….
Dec 9 2019
Judge Legodi’s firm stance and leadership has averted what would have been a harsh and sinister blow to the anti-poaching effort nationally as the sentences passed in Skukuza set a standard for courts across the country. His actions have meant a lot to the rangers and those of us who continue to fight for justice for rhinos. Our petition will keep running, just in case this matter is escalated and we need the public’s voice to assist.
Feb 13 2020
URGENT SKUKUZA REGIONAL COURT UPDATE: 107 000 signatures and counting.
We are appealing to people around the world to sign our petition, which will be handed in on 24 February 2020 as part of the argument in support of saving the court. Each and every signature matters, and rhinos and rangers need your voice.
Although Mpumalanga Judge President Legodi issued a directive on 2 December 2019 that the Skukuza Regional Court must continue, no cases have been transferred back as per his instructions and rangers are still being summonsed to appear in Mhala. The consequences of this are outlined in our petition linked below.
Regional Court President, Naomi Engelbrecht, made a low-profile decision to close this world acclaimed court 5 months ago and has defied Judge Legodi’s instruction since.
The Judge President of Mpumalanga has enrolled a special review application in the High Court to be adjudicated by the Full Bench of the Mpumalanga High Court on 24 February 2020. This application is basically to determine whether the Regional Court President was entitled to close the Skukuza Regional Court and whether the Court is legally proclamated or not.
The matter will be heard in the Mpumalanga High Court Building.
Please encourage signatures in these last few days leading up to the 24th.
Feb 14 2020
A collaborative effort using radar technology from CSIR, and Reutech Radar Systems has been the most successful deployment of any technology to date in the fight against rhino poaching. The operational successes for the application of this technology must go to the Technology Operations Manager and ranger reaction teams in the Kruger National Park, who’ve mastered finding the needle in the stack of needles!
“Technology makes things possible but people make things happen. It can’t replace people, but it can make it much easier for the people to do their job.” Wonderfully said Charl Petzer!
A massively significant project, well done to all involved.
Feb 25 2020
Skukuza Regional Court Update: The short version: no decision from the Nelspruit High Court yet.
The summarized version of quite a complex day:
Presiding over this matter are three High Court Judges.
National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.
Dept of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries
Defence for the poacher’s attorney’s, who also spoke on behalf of the Regional Court President Naomi Engelbrecht. Somewhat unbelievable and yes you read right.
In the Nelspruit High Court today the main issues being addressed were:
1) Is Skukuza a place of sitting for the Regional Court? Naomi Engelbrecht as well as the representation for the poachers’ lawyers say it is not. Everyone else present agrees that it is, including the Justice Ministry for whom Engelbrecht works.
2) If the Regional Court President, Naomi Engelbrecht, had the right to decide if the Regional Court went back to Skukuza or not.
It was discussed that, irrespective of the issue of who is wrong or right about the jurisdiction of the court, Engelbrecht openly defied the instruction from her superior, Mpumalanga Judge President Legodi, that the cases be transferred back to Skukuza.
3) If Engelbrecht can be considered conflicted when, having openly said that the cases would never return to Skukuza, went to Mhala and herself gave the judgement when the DPP’s applied to move the cases back to Skukuza. It goes without saying that Engelbrecht refused the DPP’s application and cases remain in Mhala.
Where we stand now:
After a lengthy debate on the promulgation of the court and reference to various Government Gazettes, the Justice Ministry must, by 28th February issue relevant Government Gazettes to all parties detailing which are current and which have been replaced.
Additional arguments must be submitted by 6th March.
The panel of judges will review all arguments for decision and there will in all likelihood be no need for further sittings.
Although very improbable given the positions put forward today, if it is found that the court was never legally proclaimed, then all the judgements filed there are nullified and void. This would suit the poacher’s lawyers down to the ground of course, a terrifying thought indeed, but the big question that remains unanswered are these: Why has Regional Court President been trying to close the court since 2017? Why has she repeatedly defied instructions from her superior? Why has she gone to these lengths to impose her personal will on the court?
And of course, will there be consequences for her actions in all of the above?
We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to Advocate Coert Jordaan for recognizing the voice of the larger community and entering the petition into evidence in support of the court.
To all of you who signed and shared.
Who would have thought, over 120 000 signatures and still counting. By Sunday morning we needed 1 000 signatures to hit the 120 000 mark, and by the time we finished printing last night we were nearly 1 000 over this. The response from all of you has been amazing, with a special mention of thanks to the conservation community that activated their networks last night and tipped the scales. A huge shout also out goes to our friends and partners International Rhino Foundation for their significant support in promoting the petition and a very noticeable climb in signatures!
Holding a document containing over 120 000 signatures printed back-to-back and minimised to “ant-size” over 1 000 pages is quite a humbling experience. Much more so though, is knowing how much your support means to those who have to face going to court in Mhala. The following message says it all.
“You did it! Means the world to all of us. Not just for the rhino, but for the ones nearest and dearest to us who this affects directly. No matter what happens tomorrow, your petition has brought so many people together.”
Our petition will continue to run until Skukuza Regional Court is back where it belongs, in Skukuza.
Apr 22 2020
High Court Judgement Saves Skukuza Regional Court.
In a 35-page special review judgement released earlier this afternoon, a full bench of the High Court, Mpumalanga Division, issued the following Declaratory Order:
 The following Declaratory Order is therefore made:
(a) The court building at Skukuza has been duly appointed as a place for the holding of a court including the holding of Regional Court proceedings for the hearing of criminal trials, in terms of the Magistrates Court Act 32 of 1944, read with Government Notice NO. 219 published in the 27 January 2004 Government Gazette together with Government Notice No. 492 published in the 29 April 2016 Government Gazette.
(b) The Directives issued by Judge President Mlambo and Judge President Legodi in terms of Section 8(4)(c) of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 are valid and binding on Regional Court President Engelbrecht or her successor.
(c) The Decision by Regional Court President Engelbrecht dismissing the State’s application for the transfer of the matters to the Skukuza Court and their trial thereat is hereby declared invalid; this Declaratory Order does not, however, operate retrospectively.
(d) The Registrar is directed to send a copy of this judgment to the Magistrates’ Commission.
For those who are interested in the full document we’ve uploaded the PDF to our website:
Today’s news brings much welcome relief. The fight to save this court has taken an immense amount of effort from many different role players, some of whom have paid the price with a heavy toll on their emotional and psychological wellbeing. We would like to commend the efforts of everyone involved, which includes each and every one of you who have signed and shared our petition. Public interest has played a very important role in this process.
As much as we would like to officially close our petition, South Africa is still in lockdown and the cases can only be transferred back to Skukuza once this is lifted. There is still a lot that needs to happen before we can announce smooth sailing.
Apr 23 2020
Great article by Buks Viljoen on the thorough, meticulously written Special Review Judgement by the full bench of the High Court, Mpumalanga Division in regard to the Skukuza Regional Court.
Aug 20 2020
A must read article.
Thank you to Laurel Neme for writing an excellent piece to highlight this complex and deeply frustrating situation.
Aug 20 2020
Lack of urgency in reopening Skukuza Court frustrates conservation efforts
Feb 4 2021
In what has been a lengthy and suspiciously sinister battle by Regional Court President Naomi Engelbrecht to close – and keep closed – the Regional Court in Skukuza, her legal avenues have thankfully hit a dead end.
Engelbrecht’s concerted efforts to close the court had been lurking since 2017. In September 2019, when news reached us that she again planned (this time quietly) to close the court in October, we launched an urgent online petition along with fellow NGO’s that gained instant traction with the public and brought overnight media attention to the matter. At the time, Chrispin Phiri, spokesman for the justice ministry, said they had no knowledge of the decision, and expected full disclosure. “We have made the minister aware of this motion of closing down the court and have put a temporary stop on the closing of Skukuza Court until we can get behind the reasons why the decision was made.” Engelbrecht simply ignored this instruction though, ensuring that all the Skukuza cases were moved to Mhala court, some 100kms further away.
Despite Mpumalanga’s Judge President, the honourable Judge Francis Legodi, issuing a directive on 2 December 2019 that the Skukuza Regional Court must continue, no cases were transferred back as per his instructions and rangers were still being summonsed to appear in Mhala.
The Judge President then enrolled a special review application to be adjudicated by the Full Bench of the Mpumalanga High Court on 24 February 2020. This application was to determine whether the Regional Court President was entitled to close the Skukuza Regional Court and whether the Court was legally proclamated or not (an angel taken by Engelbrecht). Interesting to note that in court on the 24th, the defence for the poacher’s attorneys also spoke on behalf of Naomi Engelbrecht.
Following a massive push from all stakeholders and reinforced by our petition (the value of which was recognized by Adv Coert Jordaan who submitted it into evidence to prove that the Skukuza Regional Court closure was a matter of huge public interest), the special review judgement issued on 22 April 2020 by the High Court in Nelspruit ordered that the court be reopened. The judgement was particularly damning towards Engelbrecht’s conduct.
Engelbrecht, however, did not re-opened the Skukuza Regional Court as instructed by the High Court in Nelspruit. Instead, she took the matter up on appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, where her leave to appeal application was turned down. She subsequently approached the Constitutional Court which, on 1 February 2021, issued an order refusing leave to appeal to the Regional Court President against the Skukuza Court ruling.
Skukuza’s rhino court, which has been revamped in the interim, is set to open at last.
What remains to be seen is what’s to become of Engelbrecht? She has, throughout this whole saga, acted disrespectfully towards her superiors by disobeying and ignoring instructions. She has fought her employer all the way up to the highest court in South Africa, attracting widespread media attention and bringing into question her credibility, competency and impartiality. We wait to see if the Department of Justice is going to tolerate this far-reaching insubordination and keep her in their employ. Who has paid for this entire process? When will justice be served and the court open again, especially now that it has officially been acknowledged by SANParks that their rhino population has plummeted? How is it possible that an official, sitting in what should be a highly trusted position, singlehandedly disrupt the justice process to this extent? And lastly, will there be a next phase of delay tactics to keep Skukuza Court closed? We’ll keep our petition, currently sitting on 162 500 signatures, open just in case.
Today’s news is a significant win for rhinos, for the rangers who protect them, for all those directly involved in the fight to save the court, for our conservation friends who rallied signatures and for the people of the world who have supported this process by adding their voices in public outcry.
Special mention to our friends and partners International Rhino Foundation and their followers for so much support, and to our fellow NGO’s who without hesitation also put their names to this process Save the Rhino International Game Rangers Association of Africa Save the Waterberg Rhino Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary Project Rhino Chipembere Rhino Foundation Game Rangers Association of Africa – South Africa, and the Purewild Fund.
Apr 1 2021
Today marks a landmark victory in what has been a massive collaborative effort to fight for the survival and re-opening of Skukuza Regional Court in the Kruger National Park. Opening its doors for the first time since its closure in 2019, the first cases appeared in front of the court this morning.
Skukuza Regional Court – the flagship court for rhino cases in South Africa – is open once again.
We would like to acknowledge the considerable efforts of all those role players who put so much time and effort into countering what was a suspiciously sinister and very determined effort by Mpumalanga Regional Court President Naomi Engelbrecht to close the court’s doors – and keep them closed. We would also like to thank everyone who signed and shared our petition (all 163 485 of you!) to save the court. Your voices played a significant role in proving tangible evidence of the importance of the court as a matter of public interest.
May the Skukuza Regional Court continue, unhindered, to seek justice for rhinos and those who work so hard to protect them.