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Category: Illegal Wildlife Trade

Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park - connivance, RENAMO and Marenge diamonds?

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We are all aware of the ever-increasing levels of rhino poaching in South Africa, but the reasons might be much more complicated than we think – we might have to make connections with diamond mining in Zimbabwe and the former Mozambican rebel group RENAMO. This was revealed in a thought-provoking article by Brian Sandberg  on which I enlarge here.

As of yesterday, this year’s toll on South African rhinos stands at 227, and at current rates of 2.25 rhinos poached per day, the 2013 total could reach 820. This total compares with 668 last year, 448 in 2011 and 333 in 2010. What is also interesting is that Kruger National Park, home to an estimated rhino population of 5,847 to 12,714 animals depending on various estimates and extrapolations, is increasingly being targeted. In 2010, 44% of the total rhinos poached were in Kruger, growing to 56% in 2011, 64% in 2012, and 72% this year. This is despite “all efforts” by South Africa, including recruitment of more rangers, involvement of the SA Army, better equipment, helicopters, more patrols, etc. Recent reports say that poaching is mainly conducted by Mozambicans who are supposedly highly trained, well-armed, and well-versed in military tactics. They appear to be running circles around any defensive forces South Africa can throw at them.

I have my doubts about the will of South Africa to deal effectively with such poaching, especially as there are strict rules placed on rangers and Army personnel that limit effective engagement – the poachers must be physically arrested and cannot be fired upon unless they shoot first. Also, Environment Minister Edna Molewa has already said that everything the South African authorities are doing is not working and the only solution will be the legalization of rhino horn trade to “undermine” the poachers. I have written before about why this will not work, but nevertheless Molewa seems completely under the thrall of the private rhino owners who stand to make many millions by selling their stockpiles. Weak attempts have been made to sign Memoranda of Understanding with Vietnam to cooperate in reducing the illegal trade, and Mozambique to halt the illegal trafficking. Nobody in their right mind, except perhaps the CITES Secretariat, thinks these “agreements” will achieve much.

Brian Sandberg, in an interview with a well-informed Mozambican, pointed to some other reasons why rhino horn trafficking is currently a growth industry in Mozambique. His informer said it had to do with diamonds in Zimbabwe and the resurgence of RENAMO – the Mozambican National Resistance Movement.

Let’s begin with the diamonds. These occur in the Marange fields in Zimbabwe, just across the border from Mozambique. The diamond fields are operated through the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. Four companies operate in the area – Marange Resources (100% owned by ZMDC) and the  others which are all 50% owned by ZMDC - Diamond Mining Corporation, Mbada Diamonds and Anjin Investments. Anjin Investments is a joint venture mining and processing company with the Chinese Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company. Interestingly, the Zimbabwe Treasury receives little benefit from these diamonds – for example Anjin Investments contributed no funds at all, and the others contributed amounts far below their earnings – much of which is allegedly flowing into the private accounts of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party officials. ZMDC is on the UK Government Sanction list because of close connections with Mugabe’s party.

There has always been a black market for diamonds in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and an active smuggling network allegedly involving Israel and Russia. It is not unreasonable to assume that RENAMO has been profiting from such smuggling and deriving needed funds to fuel their increasingly separatist and belligerent attitude towards the Mozambican government.

RENAMO was formed in 1976 with Rhodesian financial assistance to battle against Mugabe’s ZANU operating against the Rhodesian government from bases within Mozambique. When Mugabe came to power in independent Zimbabwe in 1980, RENAMO funding was taken over by the Apartheid government in South Africa to destabilize Mozambique and fight against elements of the ANC established in Mozambique. A peace accord was signed between FRELIMO (the current ruling party) and RENAMO in 1992, ending the Mozambique civil war. In the 1994 election RENAMO won over 47% of the vote and 112 seats in Parliament, but support has been eroding ever since. RENAMO now has 50 seats (of 250) and is not pleased.

RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama has now threatened a return to conflict, wants to renegotiate the peace agreement with FRELIMO, and is refusing to participate in local elections. Violence is escalating with police officers being shot and guerrilla fighters being retrained. Dhlakama has moved his headquarters to the Gorongosa region, close to the diamond mines in Zimbabwe. This has caused concern in Zimbabwe as it is felt that RENAMO and crime syndicates could be aiming to destabilize the diamond area. See also  further articles here and here.

Given RENAMO’s posturing, such new-found confidence could well have been due to an injection of funding for arms and operations from rhino horns. Destabilization of southern Mozambique and the Zimbabwe diamond areas could well benefit South Africa’s alleged wishes to keep neighbours weak and their economies disorganized to maintain regional dominance of South Africa’s economy. Is it possible that South Africa is using former ally RENAMO to achieve such aims? Is that why rhinos are being poached in Kruger with such seeming impunity? Does it explain the seeming lack of will to adequately prosecute poachers arrested in Kruger and the seeming reluctance of South Africa to request and apply the concept of “hot pursuit” to capture poachers once they cross the Mozambique border? 

Rhino conservation efforts look increasingly bleak with this toxic stew of contributing factors. As former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out last year, poaching benefits organized crime networks, terrorist organizations and local militias, and compromises national security. It would seem of benefit to Mozambique to shut down destabilizing sectors operating within her borders by eliminating their income streams including the illegal trafficking in highly lucrative rhino horns. Meanwhile all trade and possession of rhino horns must become illegal and strongly prosecuted in destination countries like Vietnam and China and all legal loopholes facilitating the trade in rhino horns (hunting trophies) must cease. Only if rhino horns are commercially worthless will the poaching stop.

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:09