By Mashudu Netsianda
The High Court has set aside professional hunter Mr Theodore Christian Bronkhorst’s conviction and sentence in connection with the smuggling of 29 sables worth $435 000 to South Africa through an illegal exit point along the Limpopo River.
Bronkhorst (55) made headlines in 2015 after he organised an illegal hunt which ended the life of the once famous lion, Cecil.
Later, he allegedly connived with three South African nationals — Edwin Hewitt (52), Hedrick Blignaut (44) and John Herbert Pretorius (52) to smuggle 29 sables into the neighbouring country.
Bronkhorst was convicted by Gwanda provincial magistrate Mr Willard Maphios Moyo for smuggling and unlawful movement of animals. He was fined $2 300 or three years imprisonment.
The ruling by Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Nokuthula Moyo, sitting with Justice Maxwell Takuva during a criminal appeals court on Monday, follows an appeal by Bronkhorst challenging his conviction and sentence.
“We are of the view that the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant (Bronkhorst) cannot be allowed to stand and in the circumstances, the appeal is allowed and both conviction and sentence are set aside,” ruled Justice Moyo.
Bronkhorst, through his lawyer Advocate Perpetua Dube instructed by TJ Mabhikwa and Partners, filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court citing the State as the respondent. He sought an order setting aside both his conviction and sentence.
In his grounds of appeal, Bronkhorst argued that the magistrate erred in convicting him without direct evidence.
“The learned court a quo erred in rejecting the defence’s version and evidence without giving adequate reasons. All the evidence presented was circumstantial and the learned magistrate erred and materially misdirected himself in failing to apply the relevant legal tests to such evidence,” said Bronkhorst through his lawyers.
The State, which was represented by Mrs Sifiso Ndlovu-Sibanda, did not oppose bail.
“It is trite that in criminal matters, the State carries the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. The court may not convict an accused person unless the essential elements of the charge have been proven in all material respects,” said Mrs Ndlovu-Sibanda.
“The State may not therefore grope in the dark, with the faint hope that somehow evidence will be found to convict where doubt exists. The accused is therefore entitled to the benefit of the doubt and he must be acquitted.”