Ezemvelo head in fir­ing line

Pay­ing R226 000 a month, out of cash-strapped en­tity’s cof­fers for six pri­vate body­guards af­ter ‘se­ri­ous’ threats

Sunday Tribune - - METRO - MERVYN NAIDOO FRED KOCKOTT

THE life of the act­ing head of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is ap­par­ently un­der threat. And so afraid is Nt­sikelelo Dlu­lane that he has sur­rounded him­self with six pri­vate body­guards – at a cost of more than R200 000 a month – for which the em­bat­tled con­ser­va­tion en­tity is pay­ing.

The threats are be­lieved to have emerged af­ter Dlu­lane can­celled a R22 mil­lion con­tract re­cently.

Nathi Oli­fant, spokesper­son for Kwazulu-na­tal’s De­part­ment of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment, Tourism and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs (Edtea), said the threats Dlu­lane is fac­ing were “se­ri­ous”.

“Pre­vi­ous chief ex­ec­u­tives, with ex­cep­tion of Dr David Mabunda, did not have body­guards. Mabunda had three body­guards at a cost of R56 940.”

While Oli­fant was re­luc­tant to di­vulge Dlu­lane’s ex­act se­cu­rity de­tail, he con­firmed that it would cost Ezemvelo – a gov­ern­ment en­tity and re­garded as a crown jewel, es­pe­cially in the prov­ince’s tourism sec­tor – around R226 000 to pro­vide Dlu­lane with pro­tec­tion.

Re­gard­ing the ser­vice con­tract that was ini­ti­ated in Jan­uary 2018 but was re­cently ter­mi­nated, Oli­fant re­vealed that, by Wed­nes­day, nearly R17.5m was paid out on the con­tract which was due to ex­pire in De­cem­ber 2023.

“The ter­mi­na­tion was not abrupt as proper chan­nels were fol­lowed in do­ing so. Be­fore ter­mi­na­tion, there were sev­eral en­gage­ments be­tween Ezemvelo and the ser­vice provider over poor ser­vice de­liv­ery,” said Oli­fant.

Dlu­lane was also in the fir­ing line when he ap­peared at the KZN leg­is­la­ture be­fore the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Ac­counts (Scopa) last week, on be­half of Ezemvelo.

He was grilled about the en­tity’s fail­ure to ap­pro­pri­ately ad­dress fun­da­men­tal flaws and ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture that was de­tected yet again in the books by Au­di­tor-gen­eral Kimi Mak­wetu.

The game of mu­si­cal chairs played over Ezemvelo’s act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion was also thrown into the mix by Mag­gie Goven­der, Scopa’s lo­cal chair­per­son. She raised that the lack of sta­bil­ity in the chief ex­ec­u­tive’s po­si­tion was a big fac­tor in Ezemvelo’s fail­ings.

Goven­der ques­tioned why other se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions, like a mar­ket­ing man­ager, se­cu­rity man­ager, and head of sup­ply chain man­age­ment (SCM), were yet to be ap­pointed.

Ezemvelo, which ac­cord­ing to its au­dited fi­nan­cial state­ments for the 2017/18 term, had re­ceived rev­enue of nearly R1.1 bil­lion, but has not had an SCM head since 2017.

In­sid­ers said the de­part­ment was run largely by “in­terns”.

Among the ques­tions put to Dlu­lane by Scopa was whether Ezemvelo had an “au­dit man­age­ment plan” and a plan to man­age “risks” found in its struc­tures.

The en­tity’s 2017/18 au­dit re­port in­di­cated that 647 992 peo­ple vis­ited Ezemvelo’s parks, and eco-tourism gen­er­ated a R241m rev­enue stream.

Scopa also wanted to know from Dlu­lane about the en­tity’s fail­ings in the up­keep of its fa­cil­i­ties which would re­sult in tourists tak­ing their busi­ness to other es­tab­lish­ments, and why Ezemvelo’s at­tempts to set up a Sec­tion 21 com­pany with com­mu­nity mem­bers from the Drak­ens­berg area failed when such a func­tion ought to have been han­dled by the Edtea.

Oli­fant said Ezemvelo had set up a “com­mu­nity levy fund” which was a ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion ini­tia­tive where R1 was col­lected from day vis­i­tors and R5 from overnight guests to their fa­cil­i­ties. This fund was cre­ated to sat­isfy com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing next to parks, but not see­ing any mone­tary ben­e­fits.

The com­mu­nity ad­ja­cent to the Didima Re­sort (Emhlwazini, Drak­ens­berg) com­plained that they were not en­joy­ing ben­e­fits from the re­sort.

To man­age the ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion pro­ceeds to the com­mu­nity, Ezemvelo and other role play­ers agreed to cre­ate the Sec­tion 21 com­pany, said Oli­fant.

He con­firmed that Ezemvelo’s SCM man­ager re­signed in Au­gust 2017, and due to the mora­to­rium from na­tional gov­ern­ment on fill­ing va­cant posts, the po­si­tion could not be ad­ver­tised.

Ezemvelo con­sid­ered other op­tions, but it had proved too costly, and then re­sorted to ap­point­ing its fixed as­sets man­ager as a tem­po­rary SCM head.

This de­part­ment presently has a staff com­ple­ment of 11 in­stead of 16, ac­cord­ing to their organogram.

Oli­fant said, in­cluded in its youth ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes, was its ini­tia­tive to give re­cent grad­u­ates work-based ex­pe­ri­ence over a year but at “no stage did in­terns work on their own or with­out proper su­per­vi­sion”.

Oli­fant said Ezemvelo had a vi­brant in­ter­nal au­dit func­tion that re­ported ad­min­is­tra­tively to the au­dit and risk com­mit­tee and to Dlu­lane.

Au­dit logs, con­tain­ing au­dit find­ings, were also submitted quar­terly to Edtea and feed­back was given to Ezemvelo re­gard­ing find­ings.

The process to re­cruit a chief ex­ec­u­tive be­gan last year and in­ter­views were sched­uled for this month.

He said the de­lays in the ap­point­ment of a mar­ket­ing man­ager were due to the pos­si­bil­ity that Ezemvelo would be merg­ing with the Sharks Board, which did not hap­pen. How­ever, an ap­point­ment would be made in May.

THE Aspinall Foun­da­tion – an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned an­i­mal con­ser­va­tion char­ity – has stepped in to save a herd of 32 ele­phants in a north­ern Kwazulu-na­tal re­serve.

This fol­lows the gor­ing of con­ser­va­tion­ist Bey­ers Coet­zee by two bulls out­side the pri­vately-owned Manawa Game Re­serve on Fe­bru­ary 18.

Coet­zee was killed while his team was try­ing to drive back the Manawa herd af­ter they had again bro­ken out of the poorly fenced re­serve. They were try­ing to guide the ele­phants to a safe area away from lo­cal vil­lages.

Coet­zee was the driv­ing force be­hind plans to ex­pand the re­serve into a larger game park, the Loz­iba Wilder­ness, in part­ner­ship with neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties and other landown­ers.

But re­cent break­outs by ele­phants have threat­ened re­la­tions with neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties, ul­ti­mately also jeop­ar­dis­ing plans to ex­pand the re­serve.

“Now, the en­tire Manawa herd is at risk of be­ing culled if mea­sures to pre­vent fur­ther hu­man-ele­phant con­flict fail,” said Grant Fowlds, an am­bas­sador of Project Rhino who worked closely with Coet­zee, his fam­ily and oth­ers to re­alise the vi­sion be­hind the Loz­iba Wilder­ness. “The irony is, Bey­ers sac­ri­ficed his life to save this ele­phant herd.”

Fowlds said to en­sure the long-term sur­vival of the herd, a new fence needed to be built around the en­tire 40000 hectare wilder­ness, as per a com­pli­ance let­ter is­sued by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

This alone re­quires at least R1 mil­lion, said Fowlds, who has wel­comed the in­ter­ven­tion of the foun­da­tion.

On Fri­day, the foun­da­tion – a world leader in the breed­ing and pro­tec­tion of en­dan­gered an­i­mals – set up a fundrais­ing drive in sup­port of these ef­forts and the ex­pan­sion of the game park.

“Bey­ers com­mit­ted his life to es­tab­lish­ing the area to be known as Loz­iba Wilder­ness Re­serve, a 40000ha breath-tak­ing piece of land,” reads the foun­da­tion’s plea on the fundrais­ing site Just Giv­ing.

“The loss of Bey­ers has left his ele­phants ex­posed and it is crit­i­cal that fel­low con­ser­va­tion­ists, who were as­sist­ing Bey­ers with sav­ing the ele­phants, step in to keep his legacy alive.”

The re­serve has the po­ten­tial to safely house a large num­ber of black and white rhi­nos, and a host of other threat­ened species such as lions and chee­tahs.

So it was crit­i­cal that this ecosys­tem be pre­served as it is pos­si­bly one of the last re­main­ing wilder­ness ar­eas in South Africa which re­mains un­pro­tected, said the foun­da­tion.

In the face of boom­ing pop­u­la­tions in South Africa, the gov­ern­ment lifted a mora­to­rium on ele­phant culling in 2008 but im­posed strin­gent con­di­tions.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesper­son Musa Mn­tambo con­firmed that a lawyer act­ing on be­half of the Coet­zee fam­ily, Peter Rutsch, had submitted an ap­peal not to cull the Manawa herd, but said it was pre­ma­ture to spec­u­late on any de­ci­sion.

He said the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the in­ci­dent would first be thor­oughly in­ves­ti­gated.

“We are in the busi­ness of con­serv­ing an­i­mals and the de­ci­sion to de­stroy any an­i­mal is taken with a heavy heart, in most cases only to pre­vent fur­ther loss of hu­man life,” said Mn­tambo.

Coet­zee is sur­vived by his

Una and two young chil­dren. wife

A MANAWA Game Re­serve ele­phant amid thick bush at the KZN re­serve.

NT­SIKELELO Dlu­lane

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