If certain conditions are met, South Africa could still attempt to convince the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) of the viability of legalising trade in rhino horn in the future.
It was a cautiously optimistic Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa who revealed on Sunday that, according to her department, 363 rhino had been killed for their horn between the beginning of January and the end of April.
“We are not claiming victory, but we are claiming success that accounts for the downward trend,” Molewa said, noting the trend of last year had appeared to stabilise.
Molewa noted the purported February 24 decision to propose the legalisation of commercial, international trade in rhino horn at Cites’ 17th Conference of Parties (CoP17) contained in National Treasury’s “Estimates of National Expenditure 2016 for Environmental Affairs”, which stated South Africa would submit a rhino horn trade proposal at CoP17, was nothing more than a mistake.
“Flip-flop” on trade
Finally cornered into giving an answer after weeks of denials and ignored requests for clarification, Molewa said there was never a flip-flop on the proposal.
“It was a genuine, genuine, mistake of somebody who was in the finance department. We have always been clear we are taking this matter to Cabinet, so as long as there has not been a decision at Cabinet, nobody had the right to write anything anywhere.
“And where would you be writing this thing from anyway? None of us actually had the committee of inquiry report; it was only tabled afterwards, so again we apologise on behalf that person, I don’t know who it is. We are aware it actually caused a whole lot of hullabaloo out there but we came back to clarify the process we were going to follow,” Molewa said.
Questions over response
The minister’s answer is not improbable, yet is at odds with claims made in the recent Swaziland proposal to legalise trade in rhino horn.
“The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parties met in South Africa in April 2016 to draft a common position on issues for Cites CoP17,” wrote the Cites Management Authority of Swaziland.
It went further and said of the 12 countries present, with the exception of only Botswana which felt it was premature to submit a proposal now, “there was a consensus in favour of rhino horn trade and in support of a trade proposal to CoP17”.
The interministerial committee met on March 9, and, on April 21, Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe said: “The recommendations endorse South Africa’s integrated strategic management approach to resolving the poaching of rhino and illegal trade in rhino. The committee recommends that the current mode of keeping the country’s stock levels be kept as opposed to the trading in rhino horns.”
Swaziland was seemingly left hanging right until Radebe’s statement and claimed it was expecting South Africa to submit a rhino horn trade proposal to CoP17 and was ready to support it.
“However, Swaziland was informed on 21st April 2016 that this was not going to happen. That decision gave rise to this proposal by Swaziland at the 11th hour,” the proposal concluded.
Conditions for trade
Interventions in security, community empowerment, biological management, demand management and effective legislation would have to be made independently of any decision on advocating – or not – trade, the committee of inquiry found.
“These issues, if not addressed, could enable wildlife crime to grow, impede governments decision to conserve rhino in its natural habitat and limit opportunities to realise benefits associated with successful conservation,” inquiry chair Nana Magomola said on Sunday.
In the long run, it means the nearly 20 tons of horn believed to be stockpiled in South Africa will continue to gather dust while government dithers over what to do with it.
After considering three other options, including a complete ban on hunting of rhino, Cabinet eventually decided to maintain the status quo, “with no immediate intention to trade in rhino horn but maintaining the option to reconsider regulated legal international trade in rhino horn when the key requirements identified earlier are met”.
Rhino poaching numbers don’t add up
The provincial breakdown supplied by Environmental Affairs stated 232 were killed in the Kruger National Park, Limpopo 30, Mpumalanga 14, North West 15, Eastern Cape 13, Free State 3, KwaZulu-Natal 51 and Northern Cape 5.
The other provinces recorded a null return.
However, a statement from the SA Police Service (SAPS) on Friday recorded 165 rhino poached in the Kruger, with 49 suspects arrested last month alone for poaching in the Kruger Park in Mpumalanga and Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Over and above these arrests police also recovered and confiscated 23 firearms, which included 17 rifles and five pistols, and 192 rounds of ammunition,” said Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo in the statement.
Allison Thomson of Outraged Citizens Against Poaching, disagreed with the numbers presented and said, according to her information, more than 20 were lost in North West, KZN was on 54, and Free State was on four rhino poached.
“We are very concerned regarding the conflicting information being sent out by different government departments. It causes distrust in what information can be relied on for a clear picture of poaching in South Africa,” Thomson told The Citizen.
When asked about the discrepancies, Molewa said the SAPS release only covered the Kruger National Park. “What we have before us now, covers the entire country so these are the actual statistics,” Molewa said.
Number of arrests climbing
With Minister of Justice Tshililo Masutha and Minister of Defence Lindiwe Sisulu at the high-powered panel, it was Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza of the Hawks who gave a breakdown of arrests. “Since the 1st of January 2016 a total of 206 alleged poachers have been arrested in South Africa,” Ntlemeza said.
“These successes are the result of the improved collaboration within the security cluster, as well as working with communities and nongovernmental organisations.”
He noted the Hawks had six projects under investigation; four cases on the court roll and 11 major investigations under way in relation to rhino matters.
Masutha said 49 prosecutions of 103 accused between April 2015 and March 2016 had been finalised, with a total of 80 people being convicted, resulting in a conviction rate of 78%.
Cites Conference of Parties 17 (CoP17)
“CoP17 to Cites will be held at one of the continent’s most prestigious and technologically advanced business and conference venues: the Sandton Convention Centre,” Molewa said.
The minister said 175 documents would be considered during the two week conference.
“Among these documents, 60 are proposals to amend the lists of species subject to Cites trade controls. This includes proposals submitted by South Africa.
“The conference will also deliberate on the role of Cites in securing the livelihoods of people living with wildlife and ensuring communities are considered in terms of interventions implemented under the Convention,” said Molewa.
“As indicated by the Cites secretariat in their recent media release, a vast array of issues will be discussed, including legal and sustainable wildlife trade, measures to tackle illicit wildlife trafficking, such as fighting corruption, enhanced enforcement, targeted demand reduction and supporting local livelihoods.”
According to Treasury, R48 million has been set aside for the event.