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South Africa sets 5 years to stem military decline
by Staff Writers
Cape Town (AFP) July 23, 2014

South Africa jails rhino poacher for 77 years
Johannesburg (AFP) July 23, 2014 - A South African court has jailed a rhino poacher for 77 years, one of the heaviest sentences handed out for the crime as poaching continues to escalate, an official said Wednesday.

South African national Mandla Chauke was arrested in the iconic Kruger National Park in 2011 after he killed three rhino calves. The vast park has seen the highest number of killings, with 370 slaughtered since January.

The South African National Parks (SANParks) hailed the sentence, saying it showed that "the courts are keen on stamping out the scourge of poaching."

"It's one of the harshest sentences, and we hope it will send out a strong message to poachers out there," said SANParks spokesman Reynold Thakhuli.

This month two Mozambicans were each jailed 16 years for killing and dehorning rhino.

They were also caught in Kruger Park. The vast area roughly the size of Israel forms a border with neighbouring Mozambique, a country where many poachers are recruited by international syndicates.

Rhino horns are prized as a status symbol in Asia, where they are falsely believed to possess medicinal properties to cure cancers and hangovers, despite being composed of the same material as fingernails.

A total of 558 rhino have been killed across South Africa since the beginning of the year, according to figures released this month.

Authorities have struggled to catch poachers who use increasingly sophisticated weaponry such as semi-automatic rifles or poisoned darts.

Though 62 people have been arrested since the start of the year, most of the prosecuted are lower-level gunmen, while kingpins evade detection.

Continental military power South Africa committed Wednesday to save its armed forces from meltdown within five years, amid budget constraints and increasing involvement in peacekeeping missions around Africa.

A review earlier this year found the South African Defence Force (SANDF) was in a "critical state of decline" after two decades of underfunding.

"We do not have a choice, but to respond with urgency to put plans to arrest the decline within the current five years, starting immediately during this financial year," said Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Wednesday.

"Although the SANDF is still able to maintain operational presence, if we do not start now, the decline will get worse," she told parliament in her budget speech.

The ministry projects a $4 billion (3 billion euro) budget for the year, or 1.3 percent of the 2013 GDP -- far below the 2.0 percent of GDP the minister said in April would be necessary to fix the military.

"Our mandate in the next five years is to act fast to restore the minimum capabilities required to safeguard South Africa, protect its maritime resources and trade routes, conduct peace missions and humanitarian interventions," said Mapisa-Nqakula.

South Africa's once feared and respected defence force has been hit by budget cuts and much of its equipment is no longer fit for purpose. The 100,000-strong force is also bleeding skilled personnel.

As one of Africa's military powerhouses, South Africa has deployed troops to peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan's Darfur.

It previously sent troops to Burundi, Lesotho and the Central African Republic. Its navy has also recently begun patrolling the coast of neighbouring Mozambique to ward off pirates.


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