The court case against five indigenous healers in the Western Cape, noticeable by their bare feet and hessian clothing, has finally come full circle after 10 months of delays.
The Mail & Guardian reported earlier this month about the group of “bush doctors” that were arrested on charges of trespassing and being in possession of two bags of protected wild garlic without having a permit.
The men, originally from the Western Cape and Northern Cape, harvested the plants from a CapeNature reserve in Durbanville, Cape Town. Upon returning to their vehicle, parked on a private farm, the police confiscated nearly 875 Tulbaghia capensis plants in the group’s possession.
Tulbaghia capensis, referred to as wild garlic, forms part of the Amaryllis family and is listed under schedule 4 of the Nature Conservation Ordinance 19 of 1974 as protected flora.
After spending four days in custody, Ashwin Fortuin, Aubrey Andrews, Edmund Cloete, Leroy Vosloo and Ronald Adams were released on bail.
Their only means of transport, a single cab Ford Ranger, was impounded by police since their arrests.
Ten months and four postponements later, the case finally reached its conclusion last week.
The Bellville magistrate’s court found the five men guilty of contravening the ordinance by being in the possession of protected flora without documentation.
They were handed a suspended sentence.
Should they be caught with protected flora in the next five years, they will face 12 months’ imprisonment and be liable for a fine of R2 000 each.
The group’s bakkie was also released.
A conservation officer at CapeNature, Leandi Wessels, who is familiar with the case, told the M&G that CapeNature welcomed the judgment.
“CapeNature is satisfied with the outcome of the case. As the conservation authority in the Western Cape, it is important that we protect the biodiversity of the province,” said Wessels.
She said the “successful prosecution of biodiversity criminals” served as a clear message that the crimes “are serious offences that can carry hefty sentences”.
Adams told the M&G that the group was happy to have their vehicle back and that they only received a suspended sentence.
He said that future plans included a possible “academic course” that would assist the group in obtaining a permit to harvest plants legally.