The aha Bongani Mountain Lodge, situated in the Mthethomusha Game Reserve, on the southern border of the Kruger National Park (KNP) in Mpumalanga, was burned to the ground in a suspected case of arson last week, reports Lowvelder.
In a statement released by police, the extent of the damage of the property amounts to approximately R9 million.
A case of arson has been opened, as well as cases of theft, malicious damage to property and public violence.
The incident was said to have been sparked by a poacher who was allegedly shot near the reserve on Friday, the lodge’s director Steven Schneier said in an interview on The John Perlman Show on 702.
Schneier said there was some confusion surrounding this, as it was not certain whether the park’s rangers were responsible for the shooting. According to him, the rangers denied shooting anyone.
He said that on Friday, the lodge received a message from the park rangers on the ground that they were under attack by a gang of armed people and were asking for help.
Police and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency were contacted.
The lodge continued to receive panicked phone calls from the park’s rangers until Friday evening, with Schneier saying the rangers were running low on ammunition.
That Sunday, a group of people arrived, made their way to the lodge and burned it down.
Schneier said the lodge had received an early warning from friends in the community that “something might happen”.
According to Schneier, the lodge’s manager had previously appealed to police for help.
Roadblocks were set up, but because the lodge’s fence is between 10km and 15km long, suspects were able to enter the property at different points, make their way to the lodge on foot and set it alight.
The lodge’s manager promptly evacuated staff down to the southern boundary of the reserve to keep them safe.
According to police, the suspects made their way to the rooms at the lodge, where they reportedly broke several doors and helped themselves to liquor and mini-fridge items. In the process, they damaged other parts of the property.
“The group is said to have also torched some of the rooms as well as stores inside the lodge before fleeing the scene with the stolen items.”
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of the suspects is urged to contact Detective Captain Vusimuzi Thobela on 082-469-1956. Alternatively, call the Crime Stop number on 08600-10111 or send information via the MYSAPSAPP.
This article was republished with permission from Lowvelder. Edited by Nica Richards.