‘This is war’ ‒ Mabuyane

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By SUE MACLEN­NAN

Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism MEC Os­car Mabuyane has promised more re­sources for the pro­tec­tion of the East­ern Cape’s nat­u­ral her­itage as­sets and said he would march along­side ac­tivists who chose to demon­strate at the next ap­pear­ance of rhino poach­ing ac­cused, the Ndlovus, in the Gra­ham­stown High Court on 26 Novem­ber. Jab­u­lani Ndlovu, Forget Ndlovu and Sikhum­buzo Ndlovu are fac­ing 50 rhino poach­ing charges in con­nec­tion with in­ci­dents across the province over the past five years.

The cel­e­bra­tion of World Field Rangers Day at Thomas Baines Re­serve out­side Gra­ham­stown (Makhanda) on Fri­day 24 Au­gust was a trib­ute to what wildlife cham­pion An­drew Muir de­scribed as “the first and last line of de­fence” in pro­tect­ing the East­ern Cape’s nat­u­ral her­itage as­sets. As speak­ers painted a vivid pic­ture of the in­creas­ing fire­power and ruth­less­ness of crim­i­nals plun­der­ing South Africa’s bio­di­ver­sity, they also spoke of the ex­tra­or­di­nary courage and skill of the rangers at the heart of the “war”.

Rangers from re­serves across the province man­aged by the East­ern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency were pre­sented with awards by Mabuyane, who had ar­rived dressed in a field ranger’s uniform. His theme was sol­i­dar­ity with the rangers, and among the first words of his ad­dress were, “I stand with the rangers.”

The event came a day af­ter the re­port of a cargo of weapons found on a ship docked out­side Port El­iz­a­beth, and Mabuyane spoke about the flood of il­le­gal arms into Africa.

“Our con­ti­nent is rav­aged by never end­ing vi­o­lent civil wars but pro­duces less weapons,” he said, link­ing the in­flux of arms to the fact that poach­ers were heav­ily armed with dan­ger­ous and so­phis­ti­cated weapons.

“The re­sources re­quired to carry out your tasks ef­fec­tively are enor­mous,” Mabuyane said. “I am con­vinced that the MEC of Fi­nance in his balanc­ing act of re­source al­lo­ca­tion will def­i­nitely not leave you be­hind. You can record me on that, be­cause I will tell him.”

He cited the In­ter­na­tional Ranger Fed­er­a­tion’s record­ing of 55 deaths of rangers in Africa in the past 12 months, and that since 2012, more than 269 rangers had died pro­tect­ing Africa’s wildlife

“At least 176 of these brave men and women [were] gunned down by mili­tia groups, un­known assailants or armed poach­ers work­ing for multi­na­tional wildlife crime syn­di­cates.”

Mabuyane said as of the end of 2017, 504 rhi­nos had been il­le­gally killed in­side Kruger Na­tional Park and 524 in other re­gions of South Africa, bring­ing the to­tal to 1 028. This was a slight de­cline from the 1 054 an­i­mals killed in 2016.

Mabuyane said there had been an up­surge in poach­ing in­ci­dents in the East­ern Cape in the past two months.

“To date a to­tal of 16 rhi­nos have been poached in the East­ern Cape… clearly poach­ers are at war and we can­not fold our arms and let them have their way.” Prais­ing the work of the field rangers, he pro­posed the es­tab­lish­ment of an ed­u­ca­tion trust fund for the chil­dren of ECPTA Field Rangers.

Muir, who is the ECPTA Board Chair, said the MEC’S pres­ence was an in­di­ca­tion of how se­ri­ously the Province took the fight against poach­ing and degra­da­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources. He em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of their ac­tive part­ner­ships with Sanparks, Work­ing for Fire and Work­ing for Water and how much they val­ued the staff on the ground.

“It’s the hu­man cap­i­tal in this in­sti­tu­tion that en­ables us to pro­tect and hon­our our nat­u­ral her­itage,” Muir said.

His re­mark that the East­ern Cape is “the wealth­i­est province by a mile” in its bio­di­ver­sity was echoed by Sanparks Chief Ranger Xolani Funda, who noted the irony that the prov­inces that had the rich­est nat­u­ral her­itage – Lim­popo and the East­ern Cape – were the poor­est in eco­nomic terms.

Funda, who is in charge of en­force­ment at Kruger Park, spoke of the level of threat that rangers now face.

“So­cial sci­en­tists crit­i­cise us for mil­i­taris­ing the field,” Funda said. “But we are deal­ing with trained crim­i­nals.”

Photo: Sue Maclen­nan

Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Tourism MEC Os­car Mabuyane.

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