#ConvictGwalaRhinoKingpin – Behind the scenes
By Jamie Joseph / #2016YearOfTheRhino #ConvictGwalaRhinoKingpin
During the midnight hours on the 28th of January I was planning the final moves of my getaway, because I knew six hours later I would be publishing a story that would expose not only Gwala, the rhino poaching kingpin of KwaZulu Natal, but also a corrupt defense lawyer and a magistrate.
A good man that was helping me with my communications, stopped me while I was packing my bag, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Jamie, if you wake up in the morning and you don’t feel right about this, walk away. You don’t have to go through with this.”
I felt the knots in my stomach tighten, and I stared back at him with eyes like a kudu caught in the headlights. I took a long breath, and then exhaled. “When I wake up in the morning I will not hesitate,” I replied. “Not even for a second.”
Two years ago, when I committed my life to Africa’s poaching crisis, I knew that one day everything would come down to just one moment where I would risk it all to expose the truth, or walk away – and if I walked away it would have all been for nothing.
I have no fixed address, I own nothing and I owe nothing. I live in the bush with the wild things, and I am never in any one location for more than two weeks. I have no family, and I make a point of not becoming attached to people, because these connections can make me vulnerable. For now, until the poaching crisis is over, the rhinos and the elephants are my only family. And I will go to great lengths to protect that which I hold most dear.
Photo credit: Jamie Joseph / Saving the Wild
In the first 24 hours of releasing the expose, the breaking story amassed over 20 000 shares and nearly a million impressions of the Twitter hashtag #ConvictGwalaRhinoKingpin. I am running off a burner phone now, with slow access to the internet, and so none of this social media out the gates had anything to do with me.
Four days later I have finally had time to look back, and I can see now that grassroots movement Global March for Elephants and Rhinos were leading the charge, and OSCAP, Save our Rhino, Rhino Rescue Project, Imake a Difference, and a handful of individuals that have gone to great lengths to create a wave of change.
A couple conservationists that understood the ramifications of my actions, total strangers, approached me and offered to keep me safe. While others that I knew personally, that had previously talked a big talk, simply disappeared. I travel solo, but I will never forget the ones who stepped up in those breaking hours.
We have a long road ahead of us. In the next couple days I will know if Public Protector Thuli Madonsela will accept the case and meet with me, because she is the chosen one, she is the one I trust. A few months ago, while delivering her speech at the Fifth Annual Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture, Advocate Madonsela said, “Laws on their own do not change lives. They need to be honestly and consistently applied so that they can make the difference they were made to make.”
Currently the Public Protector may feel that this case – because it involves a magistrate – should be attended by the Justice Commission. However this is only one of many corrupt magistrates and defense lawyers attending to rhino related cases. Rhino horn, nothing but the stuff in your fingernails, sells for up to US$100 000 a kilo on the black market in China and Vietnam – more than gold or cocaine. It’s ludicrous, but it’s the world we live in right now; it’s a war on greed, and a war on corruption.
This is a call to action, for the Public Protector to create awareness through her sphere of influence, with an urgent goal of initiating green courts specifically for rhino poaching related cases. We believe that all rhino related cases should be forwarded to a green court, to ‘protect the magistrate from any speculation’ and to ‘protect the prosecutors and investigating officers’ that are trying to bring justice to the surface in a cesspit of brutality. We ask that the Green Scorpions be brought in to assist prosecutors.
Hard working, honest people whose careers are bound to this same legal system that is failing us, is failing them too, and they are far more of a target than I am. I can disappear, but they have to deal with intimidation on a daily basis. I don’t want to pick any more fights, but I will if I am forced to.
These ruthless kingpins will stop at nothing to fill their pockets. My sources know they can trust me implicitly, but if the Justice Commission and the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa do not take swift action, then this is only the beginning of a very long, visible and embarrassing trail of corruption.
I was raised in KwaZulu Natal. My childhood and my father’s ashes will forever belong to this precious part of the planet. I came from nothing, and when I was 20 I moved to London to seek my fortune. I wanted to be just like Richard Branson. I made a lot of money, and then I decided to give it all away. And so now I am just a penniless bush gypsy answering to the call of the wild, and Richard and his awesome team at Virgin Unite share my ‘Saving the Wild’ stories with the world. Every journey is full of twists, and I have never felt so alive as I do right now, and I have never felt so determined.
I am incredibly grateful to the army of Global Citizens that stand beside me. They are the bricks and mortar in this pursuit for justice, and without them I am rubble.
But I am disappointed with KwaZulu Natal as a whole, the province that will benefit directly if Gwala is put behind bars. The silence by the KZN conservation NGOs is deafening, and it’s all down to politics. Coupled with this, media is failing to communicate the issues. One respected newspaper reporter that wrote a follow up story was blocked by his editor, whilst a producer at a prominent KZN radio station was harping on to me about how much they want to help save the rhino when I was on a bush assignment with the Sharks Rugby team just a week ago, but has since shown zero interest in a story that involves the justice system – as opposed to celebrities.
The future of Africa’s wild is in the hands of countless small acts of courage. Make a stand…
The universe rewards the brave.
— savingthewild.com (@savingthewild_) January 28, 2016