Will South Africa’s President Ramaphosa save the rhinos from China?
By Jamie Joseph
It is no secret that the most powerful thugs in South Africa are government officials, and the blood on their hands is dripping all over limited edition bottles of Hennessey. They are drunk on power, even after the fall of Zuma, because corruption is entrenched, and what we need right now is Presidential backbone. They have stripped South Africa of state assets, they have created a corrupted justice system where rapists and murderers walk free in exchange for fists full of cash, and now they are coming in for the kill of our natural heritage; our rhinos.
Yesterday, October 29, China announced the country will open the domestic trade in rhino horn and tiger bones from captive-bred animals, a devastating blow to earth’s iconic species.
Last week, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) presented its future plans for rhino “protection”, proving that they have no idea what it is they are talking about. Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, Mohlopi Mapulane, delivered a stinging rebuke:
“We need a solution and I did not hear any solution this morning.”
READ: Don Pinnock, for Daily Maverick, Selling rhino horn: It’s time to ask hard questions about the Department of Environmental Affairs.
What is clear is that South Africa’s DEA wants to make a pile of money by getting CITES to agree to the trade in rhino horn, and they are singing from the same song sheet as China. And the song sounds like a wake for the dead.
Says Peter Knights, chief executive of WildAid, in the New York Times breaking news story yesterday, “A small number of individuals stand to make a lot of money perhaps at the price of the species.”
The argument is to promote farmed rhino horn and tiger bones, on the pretense that this will stop poaching. What these governments fail to acknowledge is that many of these consumers demand the wild specimen – even though these wildlife body parts have absolutely no medicinal value. What will stop the poaching is when the demand is stopped through China-led demand reduction campaigns.
Saving the Wild has spent the last three years infiltrating rhino poaching syndicates, and we can tell you with absolute certainty that they are not going to stop killing rhinos just because there is a legal trade. They’re celebrating right now, they’re laughing all the way to the bank, because the market can only boom with trade, and they’ll be even more incentivized to send out their gangs to butcher more rhinos – until there are no more rhinos left.
The ivory trade has already proven that a legal trade is just a front for the illegal trade to flourish. Either these governments have amnesia, or key members of government are corrupt.
Saving the Wild’s mandate is to pursue high level targets and expose the corruption enabling rhino poaching in South Africa – because corruption is the primary driver behind illegal wildlife crime. And sometimes the very people put in charge of protecting our wildlife, are the ones causing the most damage.
Up until yesterday, I had been proudly telling everyone these past few weeks that I believed we were finally turning the tide on rhino poaching. I believed that 2018 would be the year rhino poaching would start to decline. Here are a few reasons why, with gratitude to the many unsung heroes, from rangers and vets, to police and prosecutors, and the rural community members who are the eyes and ears on the ground:
Saving the Wild systematically dismantled the ‘Gwala Syndicate’ headed up by Zululand’s accused rhino horn dealer Dumisani Gwala. Trial starts November 26. At the time of Gwala’s arrest, law enforcement concluded around “80% of rhino horn in KwaZulu-Natal went through Gwala’s hands”. Last month, 76 rhinos had been poached in KwaZulu-Natal in 2018, compared to 202 in 2017.
We assisted the Hawks Police in the sting operation that led to the arrest of the alleged kingpin of Kruger, Petros Sydney Mabuza AKA “Mr Big”. The Hawks and SanParks exceeded all expectations when “Mr Big” was arrested again last month while out on bail, alongside alleged rival Kruger kingpin “Big Joe” Nyalunga. Both are currently locked up, with bail judgement this Friday.
Saving the Wild exposed the ‘Blood Rhino Blacklist’, an alleged syndicate of magistrates and lawyers who have for years been taking bribes on rhino and elephant poaching cases. On October 5th, in a historic turn of events, Regional Court President Eric Nzimande was suspended by the Minister of Justice. Criminal charges for all now pending.
READ Corruption in the courtroom: A sordid tale of sex, gambling, poachers and payoffs
South Africa’s rhino crisis had finally reached the tipping point of a revolution; where syndicates collapse with the conviction of kingpins. According to the September 22 ‘World Rhino Day’ report by WildAid, rhino horn prices in Asia were showing a sharp decline. Against all odds, the global conservation effort was finally starting to turn the tide on rhino poaching.
Speaking at the launch of the Biodiversity Economy Operation Phakisa a few weeks ago, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “The destruction of our biodiversity – the loss of plant and animal species – has grave implications for our own survival and well-being. It affects livelihoods, health, and food and water security. However, on the other hand, sustainable maintenance of biodiversity can contribute to our efforts to eradicate poverty and create economic opportunities for our people. It is our responsibility to treasure and preserve this great natural abundance and to fully realize its potential to provide a better life for all our people.”
If South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa does not make a stand against corruption, against trade of rhino horn – a trade which has already funded a cabal of crooked justice officials, where countless murderers, rapists and poachers were set free – his legacy will be extinction, and atrocities against humanity.
It’s time for President Ramaphosa to have a serious talk with his friends in China.
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Photo credit: Thomas D. Mangelsen | Saving the Wild Collection
“With this announcement, the Chinese government has signed a death warrant for imperilled rhinos and tigers in the wild who already face myriad threats to their survival. It sets up what is essentially a laundering scheme for illegal tiger bone and rhino horn to enter the marketplace and further perpetuate the demand for these animal parts. This is a devastating blow to our ongoing work to save species from cruel exploitation and extinction, and we implore the Chinese government to reconsider.”
Iris Ho, senior specialist for Wildlife Program and Policy at Humane Society International
“At a single stroke, China has shattered its reputation as a growing leader in conservation following its domestic ban on the sale of ivory at the start of the year. It is instead revealed as a sham, its international image in tatters and its credibility destroyed – and all for the sake of deeply questionable business sectors which serve only to drive consumer demand for the parts and products of endangered species. History will not judge the Government of China kindly or with respect for such a reactionary, ill-judged and damaging decision.”
Debbie Banks,Tiger Campaign Leader for Environmental Investigation Agency
“A brazen disregard for global opinion. A win for traffickers and a huge setback for conservation efforts and demand-reduction campaigns. Make your voice heard. CITES and the US have the ability to impose sanctions.”
Dereck Joubert, Rhinos without Borders
“Corruption is a key factor in driving rhinos and other species towards extinction. We look to judicial, police, and security officials and all relevant authorities to uphold the law protecting wildlife. Where they don’t, the consequences are literally lethal. A commitment to the rule of law is vital in protecting wildlife”.
Helen Clark | UNDP Administrator (2009-2017), New Zealand Prime Minister (1999–2008)
“Rhinos are critically endangered because of the illegal trade in their horns. To save them, it is not enough to support anti-poaching efforts on the ground. We must also fight corruption, a tough challenge for there is corruption everywhere. We must all get involved in saving the rhino. How? Make a donation, spread awareness, write letters. Just do something and do it now before it is too late.”
Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace