Security on the Mthethomusha Nature Reserve – which falls under the auspices of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) – has been reinforced following the arson attack on Bongani Mountain Lodge on January 31.
This follows news from the Provincial Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Mpumalanga, Lieutenant-General Bethuel Mondli Zuma, that three suspects had been apprehended and had appeared before the Kanyamazane Magistrate’s Court yesterday (February 9) on charges of, amongst others, arson and possession of stolen goods.
“It remains our commitment to ensure that we work towards repairing the damaged infrastructure and provide the necessary support where required,” said ceo of the MTPA, Johannes Nobunga. He said the arson attack had resulted in the lodge, several field rangers’ pickets and the reserve offices being completely burnt down.
“The various sites within the nature reserve have also been badly vandalised,” he added, noting that the MTPA team was focused on replacing the damaged fence and attending to the rescue of the animals on the reserve to avoid further poaching.
An SAPS report issued on Sunday (February 7) confirmed that at least four species had been poached on the reserve near the lodge, including three impala, four nyala, one klipspringer and one spotted genet.
“We are distraught with this criminal activity that has left many of the employees of the lodge without a job and tremendous damage to the nature reserve as a whole. Our team has been working tirelessly, together with the law-enforcement agencies, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book,” said Johannes.
He said the arson attack happened as a result of an alleged shooting of a poacher on the reserve. “We would like to indicate that under no circumstances were any of our field rangers involved in this shooting incident,” reiterated Johannes.
He said an assessment was currently under way to determine the extent of the damage. Operations at the nature reserve have temporarily closed.
Aha Hotels and Lodges, which has the management contract for Bongani, reiterated that there were no guests at the lodge at the time of the incident and staff were all safely evacuated from the property.
“Due to the damage to the property, no further reservations for accommodation will 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,” reads a holding statement from the company.
Alleged SAPS inaction
Meanwhile Bethuel has acknowledged the rumours – mostly via social media and various tourism WhatsApp groups – that some members of the SAPS did not actively assist during the arson attack on the lodge.
One post, which claimed to be family members of the lodge owners, noted: “On Friday (January 29) a mob attacked the Bongani Mountain Lodge northern gate. The police were called in on Friday night but they just observed everything from a distance without trying to resolve or put a stop to the attack.”
The post chronicles the events over the weekend which eventually led to the arson attack on Sunday (January 31), reiterating that the police “did not act”.
Bethuel said an investigation had been launched into these allegations.