Mocambican perspective on the rhino poaching scourge

An extract from the blog written by Brian Sandberg, relating to an interview with a Mocambican ( X ) studying outside the country

For this blog, I’m going to centre on rhino-poaching challenges and inputs from ‘X’. 

He was born in the mid-1980′s near Massingir, in Mozambique, the youngest of 4 children. (Massingir is adjacent Lake Massingir, at the southern end of Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park, and close to Kruger National Park. Therefore, this area has relevance.)

To add some regional background, specifically for South Africans:

South Africa has almost double the population of Mozambique and our GDP (Gross Domstic Product – roughly explained as the total value of any nation’s goods and services traded, domestically and internationally) is approximately THIRTY times greater than Mozambique’s GDP.  So, in simple terms, the GDP per capita is 15 times larger in SA…or, put differently – Mozambique is 15 times ‘poorer’ than SA, in rather crude terms.

This means – according to ‘X’ – junior ranks in the police only earn between US$ 90 and US$ 120 (approx) per month. Farm workers earn between US$ 60 and US$ 75 p.m. and likewise ‘game rangers’. (One can readily see how vulnerable such low-paid employees would be to bribes.)

 

 In the envisaged Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, between Gonarezhou, Zinave, Banhine and Limpopo National Parks there are a number of farmers – several being former South Africans – that are engaged in mixed farming, which includes game ranching, eco-tourism and hunting.

Gaza Province has an estimated population – like Manica – of about 1.5m people, and Sofala around the 2.0m mark. All 3 provinces have weak economies, mainly linked to agriculture and tourism, with very high levels of unemployment.

In Julian Rademeyer’s remarkable book about rhino poaching, “Killing for profit” (Randomstruik, 2012 - http://killingforprofit.com/ ), he details how the South African Defence Force in the 1980′s – as part of supporting RENAMO – was involved in trade in rhino horn (and elephant ivory), some legal and some illegal at that time. As he alludes – and which ‘X’ and I both agree – this opened a door, a long time ago, for RENAMO to treaty for illicit arms dealing, so old contacts have simply become “reconnected”, as ‘X’ says.

‘X’ believes the multitude of stashed weapons, buried in mainly Gaza and Manica provinces, have allowed unemployed, ex-RENAMO supporters (i.e. potential renegades) to ‘tap into’ major crime syndicates, linked to Russia, the Middle East and the Far East.  In addition, ‘X’ believes much of RENAMO’s current funding comes through illicit Marange diamond trade with renegade, black market dealers from Israel and Russia, in or around Chimoio, often with Chinese links, too.

As an added ‘money’ sideline – and quoting him roughly here – “some of this income is from Zim elephant poaching in Gonarezhou, plus the same in Mozambique’s national parks, including Gorongoza, and of course ‘rhino poaching’, in SA and Mozambique”.

He also believes – according to information he gathered when travelling around the region doing research last Nov/Dec – that a number of South African game farmers are somehow linked into this illicit trade through their hunting operations, and given the relatively low criminal value attached to illicit wildlife trade in Mozambique – plus a weak judiciary and ‘bribe-able police’ – “take their chances”, as he said to me.

I asked him about the value of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding between Maputo and Pretoria, in respect of rhino (wildlife) poaching. He replied that he believed the Mozambique government didn’t have real control over district leaders and police in either Gaza or Manica because the “wheeler-dealers” (whether RENAMO, ex-RENAMO or FRELIMO) held sway via bribes. Hence, he felt it had little or no value.

I asked him about customs control and law enforcement for ports and airports. He suggested that supervisors probably earned between US$150 and US$250 p.m. (at best) and that “a couple of thousand US$ would ensure anything could be shipped in or out” … he was talking anything between arms, drugs, ivory and/or rhino horn.

My next question raised was about fixing the fence between Kruger National Park and Mozambique. He laughed at me, saying something like “Do you think 50-100 kms of fencing will stop hundreds of ‘poachers’ who mostly grew up in the bush, with weapons and conflict as part of their DNA? They’ll cut through it every day – there’s enough ‘storm-troopers’ back home to do it. Look at the Zim-SA border at Beitbridge, or even the fences between Israel and Palestine.” (That answer has stuck in my mind!)

All this then led me to ask him what he believed the solution for our rhino (and elephants) was. He replied that he didn’t have an answer because that wasn’t his area of interest.  However, he did say – thinking out loud, as it were – that he felt South Africa might assist our rhino-war, by offering Mozambique serious financial support to ‘de-militarize’ that country and offer developmental finance to these hugely under-developed provinces and their districts (and villages) on highly favourable terms, that included improved law enforcement (including border/customs control) and a better judicial system.

BUT – he thought that was “pie-in the sky”, and I agree – it’s a hugely tall order, given how little SA got involved in such matters in Zimbabwe, for instance.

TO CONCLUDE … I felt hugely privileged to have this kind of conversation with someone who has a real insight into the many challenges facing Mozambique, especially in areas some socio-political unrest occurs and where a range of illicit trade blossoms.

He believes the medium-term picture looks bleak as illicit trade rises to fuel potential armed conflict in Mozambique, especially with the likelihood of RENAMO getting even less seats in their parliament next year. More lawlessness will occur, and more wildlife will be poached, particularly as a possible MDC-led government in Zimbabwe might close down some illicit Marange diamond trade.

He hasn’t paid much attention to northern Mozambique recently, but is aware that certain illicit elephant poaching in Tanzania is fuelled by demand from syndicates operating north of the Zambezi. ‘X’ is quite certain that the next 2 years, at least, will see much greater elephant losses there, given Tanzania’s large populations in their southern parks.

All-in-all, it’s a deeply concerning scenario, and it looks like it can only escalate further, as more tensions arise in Mozambique, socio-politically, and as RENAMO seeks to destabilize communities and the government, with renegades and crime syndicates exploiting this situation for ‘black market money’.

Maybe, in time, ‘X’ will dig deeper into areas that interest me, and tell me more, but – for now – I must simply salute a young man who has made a fairly strong impression on me. And … I totally respect his request for anonymity.

 Brian Sandberg, Durban. South Africa.  10 April, 2013.

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