BULAWAYO — Zimbabwean authorities are investigating an illegal stash of cyanide worth thousands of dollars at a warehouse in Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city, officials said on Friday.
The toxic substance, which can be used for mining -but has recently been used in a slew of poaching operations-, was discovered by the owners of Posryn Properties, a company that owns the warehouse where the 40 tonnes were discovered, after they terminated the contract of a former director who had stored it there without their knowledge, they said in a statement.
The former director, Maria Magdalena ‘Marida’ Van Der Spuy (46), a South African national, is suspected of storing the cyanide on behalf of Wayne Jardine, a Bulawayo-based businessman and professional hunter, and his associate Li Song, sources said.
Van Der Spuy is alleged to have illegally transported and allowed the storage of the toxic substances in league with a shady fellow South Africa national and self proclaimed forensics expert, Robert ‘Rob’ Forfar (64) who was fired alongside her after company authorities unearthed a raft of irregularities on the running of the organisation.
Police and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) were alerted to the contraband more than a week ago, but it still remains at the premises, posing a health and safety hazard, itnvestigations have confirmed.
“We made a report to police and the EMA (Environmental Management Agency). We also signaled our willingness to help in investigations, confiscation by the state, moving of the product from our site and prosecution of those behind the illegal act as is our legal obligation,” insiders said.
However, police have confirmed receiving the report and hinted that they are diligently at work do deal with the culprits as this is an international crime seeing as it is that Zimbabwe is a signatory to international law regarding the transporting and storage of cyanide.
A police investigation office in the case, who declined to be named, said no arrests had been made yet and the suspects were being sought for questioning.
He also said there was no evidence that the cyanide was intended for poaching, but added that the substance was highly regulated and required a permit to be stored or transported hence the emergency handling of the matter.
However, there have been fears around what the holders have been using the cyanide for amid allegations that they have been accessing it and collecting small amounts that appear not enough for mining purposes and operations.
EMA officer dealing with the matter one Mr Maponga declined to comment on the matter asking this reporter to seek comment from his superiors. Insiders at the agency said EMA was working with the police to impound the cyanide and ensure its safe disposal.
It was not clear if the agency has received any responses to the questions on how the suspects acquired the cyanide, where they stored it and what they planned to do with it.
Cyanide is a very dangerous substance that can cause death or serious harm to humans, animals and plants. It should not be stored or handled by anyone who is not authorized or trained to do so. Questions sent to Wayne Jardine and Maria Magdalena ‘Marida’ Van Der Spuy were not responded to at the time of going to press.
The illegal cyanide stash raises concerns over the potential use of the substance for poaching, especially in Matabeleland, where the problem has been rampant in recent years. Poachers have been known to lace water bodies with cyanide to target elephants for their tusks, which are smuggled to Asia for huge profits.
This year alone, six adult elephants were found dead in a suspected case of cyanide poisoning at a water hole adjacent to Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife reserve. The carcasses were discovered in a decomposing state, with their tusks removed, indicating poaching as the motive.
The cyanide poisoning of elephants not only causes loss of lives of the endangered animals, but also triggers a domino effect of environmental catastrophe, as other animals and plants are affected by the contaminated water sources.
The owners of the warehouse where the cyanide was found said they were alarmed by the discovery and reported it to the authorities immediately.
“The incidences of abuse of cyanide by miscreants cannot be overemphasised hence our report and our keen interest to follow up on how the cyanide is treated after it leaves our premises to ensure there is accountability of any wrongdoing and that the law is followed to the letter,” they said in a statement.