Author Archive for Brian Sandberg


Mozambique poaching in SA – an “Act of Terrorism” : Open letter to Parliament


An open letter from EARTH AFRIKA to Adv. J. H. de Lange, MP, Chairperson of South Africa’s parliamentary portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs:

26 May 2013

Adv. J. H. de Lange, MP
Chairperson: Portfolio Committee – Water and Environmental Affairs
National Assembly
Cape Town.

(Copy per email – additional copy to Committee Secretary for circulation to committee members.) 

Dear Advocate de Lange,


Given the atrocious rise in recent acts of poaching, clearly committed by persons from Mozambique, against South Africa’s precious rhino – and last week, an elephant cow from Tembe Elephant Park – it is now imperative that South Africa’s parliament acts quickly and decisively to stem this ‘bloody’ onslaught.

Since your portfolio committee acts as our custodial legislative oversight body, we are writing to you, directly – as an open letter, published via social media – in this grave matter.

Earth Afrika is an informal alliance of NGO’s, conservationists, ecologists, environmental lawyers and active citizens, both inside South Africa, and across our region.

Our legal and legislative research confirms that poaching activities and related wildlife crime may be deemed “Acts of Terrorism”, as interpreted within the context of both South Africa’s own Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (Act 33 of 2004) and the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, as defined by the former Act.

Accordingly, we draw your esteemed attention – and that of your oversight committee – to this extremely critical matter of national security, by way of some brief background information and a suggested ‘action plan’.


The AU’s Convention – signed and ratified by both SA and Mozambique a decade ago, and formally lodged with the United Nations after adoption – is a primary guiding, multinational instrument, recognized by our own legislation.

In short, this Convention states that:

A “Terrorist act” means:

(a) any act which is a violation of the criminal laws of a State Party and which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated or intended to:

(i) intimidate, put in fear, force, coerce or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act, or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles; or 

(ii) disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency … 

It further places critical obligations on “State Parties” in Article 2 – which binds Mozambique indisputably – to, inter alia:

(a) review their national laws and establish criminal offences for terrorist acts as defined in this Convention and make such acts punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account the grave nature of such offences …

To conclude this synopsis, Article 4 of the Convention requires of “State Parties” to, inter alia:

(a) prevent their territories from being used as a base for the planning, organization or execution of terrorist acts or for the participation or collaboration in these acts in any form whatsoever …

In terms of South Africa’s own legislation on this matter, namely the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act of 2004, a “Terrorist Activity” is defined as being, inter alia:

(a) any act committed in or outside the Republic, which – 

(i) involves the systematic, repeated or arbitrary use of violence by any means or method … 

(v) causes the destruction of or substantial damage to any property, natural resource, or the environmental or cultural heritage, whether public or private … 

(vii) causes any major economic loss or extensive destabilisation of an economic system or substantial devastation of the national economy … 

(viii) creates a serious public emergency situation …


Our legislative review indicates that:

1. The deployment of specially trained military personnel of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in the Kruger National Park and other environs clearly constitutes a “serious public emergency situation”, especially given the massive resource deployment required to counter this scourge;

2. There is a global, regional and local outcry over the destruction of South Africa’s rich and unique “natural resources” and “environmental heritage” through poaching, thus indicating the gravity of the poaching onslaught;

3. Poaching has now become “systemic” and involves the use of violence, both against nature kind and human kind, as proven by the additional physical threat to life and personal injury for rangers, anti-poaching units and SANDF personnel, which, directly and indirectly, undermines South Africa’s constitutional obligations to the security of its citizens by way of a tacit condonment of such acts of violence and terror, and our nation’s limited responses thereto; and

4. The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, in conjunction with SA National Parks and other provincial parks, can more than adequately prove to your committee that a significant part of our poaching crime originates from Mozambique soil, and that this respective “State Party’s” government has neither enacted laws, nor taken strong law enforcement counter-measures, to recognize our national, African and global assets and these appalling threats to their future security, as well as our resultant national economic and “war” crisis.


Accordingly, our organization strongly believes that an appropriately constituted court of law in South Africa would find that:

(a) The Republic of Mozambique is in material breach of their “State Party” obligations under the AU’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism; and

(b) The Republic of South Africa has neither applied its mind diligently, nor taken strong corrective action, to halt such “terrorist” incursions from Mozambique on our national soil, thereby creating a national security crisis, and must insist – with immediate effect – the SA Police and National Prosecuting Authority give effect to charging parties of such a “terrorist” crime, once apprehended.

Quick links: 

African Union Convention:

Related South African legislation:


In this light of this well considered and diverse legal opinion, we – as Earth Afrika – hereby call on the Portfolio Committee for Water and Environmental Affairs, to urgently:

1. Constitute, as soon as possible, a special committee sitting to consider this opinion rendered here and devise remedial actions therefrom;

2. Advise the Minister and the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs of this pending matter;

3. Seek state legal advice on this matter and investigate legislative amendments – if required – to strengthen laws related to “terrorism” involving natural and environmental assets of the state;

4. Advise and liaise with other parliamentary portfolio committees, which are adjunct to this matter, such as the following, in order to devise a cohesive, national strategy:

a. Justice and Constitutional Affairs;
b. Police;
c. Defence and Military Veterans;
d. International Relations and Cooperation; and
e. Home Affairs;

5. Seek an urgent bilateral meeting with your committee’s counterparts in Mozambique’s parliament to highlight this grave issue and devise collaborative strategies to remedy this situation, urgently; and

6. Direct South Africa’s law enforcement agencies to give substance to these “terrorist crimes” immediately and also make national statements to our citizens about the gravity and new focus of such crime prosecutions.


Sir, whilst we are clear in our firmly held opinions in this matter, we are acutely aware of strong historical ties with our SADC and African neighbour. Hence, whilst firm, we tender this open letter with due respect, given the gravity of this prevailing situation.

Additionally, whilst we are acutely aware that poaching is not singularly linked to multinational, criminal, terrorist gangs emanating from Mozambique, there is a plethora of evidence that this nation plays host – wittingly or unwittingly – to the majority of this costly and ‘bloody’ threat to our national security and our rich natural treasures.

Thus, we call on you, and your committee, to consider – in serious terms – the substantive summary of opinion and proposed action plan contained herein.

Thank you for your attention thus far.

Brian Sandberg
(Regional Coordinator – Earth Afrika) 

55 Sunnyside Lane,
3610 Pinetown. South Africa.
(Email – briang.sandberg <at> gmail. com)

Original letter – download link:

NB – it should be noted that poor grammar has resulted in some minor edits here – when compared to the original letter – but the core ethos and context has not changed whatsoever. (BS note – 26 May 2013 – 14h06)


Mozambique: More mud in the murky “rhino-horn” underworld


My recent blog about potential illicit trade and messy politics in Mozambique didn’t open just my eyes, but a somewhat veritable ‘can-of-worms’.

With almost 800 unique page views in under 5 days – of which around 250 were in the first 24 hours – I’ve been quite taken by the 50-60 people who contacted me privately, with about a third of them sharing some stories or suspicions over related matters.

Most of these “informants” who mailed me, and with whom I spoke on the phone, chose to remain anonymous and used random email addresses and “private number” mobiles.  Each bit of feedback seemed interesting, or possible, on its own, but when one hears an almost identical story/theory from two or three totally unconnected people, then some substance starts to evolve.

This blog – quite a lengthy read here – is a brief record of many of these many detailed and deeply concerning allegations that I’ve been party to receiving. In fact, the situation is far more bleak than I initially imagined. From the perspective of where I sit, anyway.

In case you’ve not read “Mozambique: Internal politics and the illicit trade of rhino horn, ivory and Marange diamonds” – 10 April 2013 – here’s the link:

My hope through this post is that more readers might be able to join a few more dots in a gloomy picture emerging and come forward with bits of possibly related knowledge or experience they have.

One of the spin-offs has been the privilege of a few (seemingly) trusted and well-informed “security” folk making comms with me, so we’re setting up a little “intel” research network to collate information and add it to their database, in the hopes of joining many more dots.

Before I write about some of these really murky issues I’ve learned about – which need oxygen for wider awareness of this ‘bloody’ poaching war – let me make a few points:

1. I’ve given each person mentioned a pseudonym, for obvious reasons;

2. I’ve left out pieces from stories that might identify the informant to a third party, which could either compromise him or her and/or complicate our obtaining any more information;

3. Plus – finally – I’ve tried to break down issues into some key areas that make for their own ‘mini-stories’.

SWAZILAND – Casinos, denims and rhino horn …

First up, a map of the area – 


My blog was posted on the evening of Wednesday 10 April. On the Friday morning, a generic email offered to tell me about how a Chinese-owned denim jeans business in Nhlangano had links to one or more South African game hunting operators, based in the area between Vryheid, Piet Retief and Ithala Game Reserve, in terms of possible rhino horn trade and transit to Mozambique via Swaziland.

I looked at my blog stats and saw 2 unique page views from Swaziland that morning. (In the past 12 months, I’d never had a Swazi ‘reader’ on any blog, so it was easy to track reads from that country.)

I replied that I’d like to call the person (Sally) to hear more. Finally got to speak to her that evening, via a third person’s mobile number. Swazi readership was now 6.

Sally worked at Nhlangano Casino for a few years until just after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. She had a younger brother who worked for a Chinese denim jean manufacturer as a dispatch packer and a boyfriend (at the time) who was a truck driver at the same plant and did regular trips to Maputo, via Naamacha border post, freighting various goods between the factory and warehouses in Maputo.

After one such trip, she, the boyfriend and brother were chatting and a story evolved of two potential regular game-ranch farmers from SA – who were regular guests at the casino, often with foreign ‘clients’ – seemingly doing business with an owner/manager of the Chinese denim business that appeared to involve “horns or tusks” from dead animals. Smelly, heavy cartons containing black plastic bags, packed in newspaper were delivered to a Chinese wholesaler’s warehouse in Maputo under rather strange situations twice.

Around the start of the World Cup, Sally was on duty at the casino and noticed the Chinese manufacturer having drinks with the two South African game-ranchers, who’d checked in earlier, in a corner of the bar lounge. Naturally, she was suspicious, so she kept an eye on them. They all went out to the car-park. Since it was getting dark, she couldn’t see quite clearly, but it looked like two, rather bulky and heavy, black-plastic bin bags were being transferred from the rancher’s 4×4 vehicle to the Chinese guy’s SUV.  A few minutes later, they shook hands and the Chinese guy left whilst the two ranchers went off to one of their rooms.

That night, the ranchers and a couple of their guests accompanying them tried to change rather large amounts of US$ into SA rands, but the casino didn’t have sufficient cash on hand to assist. They all gambled, but not to any meaningful extent.

Sally’s (by now) ex-boyfriend had another job, but through her brother, she was able to ascertain that a day or two later a truck driver at the plant had delivered a truckload of cartons to a Chinese-owned factory in Manzini and one carton (that “stank”) to another Chinese guy at another small warehouse.

On the Sunday evening after hearing Sally’s story 2 days earlier, I got an email from a certain “Jaco”, who asked if he could call me.  Turns out, he’d worked for quite a large hunting outfit bordering the west of Kruger National Park for a year or so in 2008/9. He started his call to me by saying that he felt some rhino horn was being smuggled out of South Africa and into Mozambqiue via Swaziland. My ears pricked up.

He told the story of how a couple of Thai guys had been hunting guests for a couple of days, during which time he knew of 4 rhino that had been hunted by the ranch owner and a neighbour of his illegally, because they were almost certainly Kruger rhino on their land. On a Friday evening, one of the other young rangers employed there told him that the owner, the neighbour and the 2 Thai guests had gone to play golf and gamble in Swaziland for the weekend. On the Saturday, the owner’s wife mentioned that the Thai guests were going to fly back to Johannesburg from Swaziland and had taken their ‘trophy horns’ with them, but yet they arrived back at the ranch on Sunday evening.

Jaco drove them to a nearby airport on the Monday morning, but there was no sign of any horns. He kept quiet. No one ever said anything about this again.

A couple of months later – on a Friday or Saturday night – at a local town watering hole, he then heard a story about how his boss was part of a hunt on another neighbour’s farm where apparently 2 more Kruger rhino were shot, illegally, a day or two earlier. The next day, he heard from his employer’s son that the rancher had flown that weekend, with a few mates – one of whom had a private plane – and the neighbouring rancher where the latest hunt had taken place was in this ‘tour party’ – to Swaziland for a “bit of golf and gambling”. He wondered to himself about the rhino horns, but never said anything to anyone, and learnt nothing more.

He’d forgotten about all this until he read my blog via Facebook and simply felt there were too many suspicions from his own experience for him to remain quiet.


First up, another map of the relevant area.

‘Mark’ is a South African and works in the field of engineering.  He has done a “few years” of consulting work in building new manufacturing plants in Mozambique. One of his latest projects has been some work for a new Chinese investing company building a new cement processing plant near Maputo.

He’d been sent an email by a friend in conservation asking whether or not his experiences in Mozambique tied into some of what I wrote about in my 10 April blog. We spoke “completely OTR – off-the-record”, as work permits and his consulting work would be threatened by any untoward disclosure.

He alerted me to recent major investments in cement processing in Mozambique.
Here’s a relevant new link, given that these new plants involve substantial Chinese employment, trade and project funding –

Through his email-friend, Mark is linked to a conservation project near Kruger National Park’s southern border, and – as such – is deeply concerned about Mozambique’s rhino-poachers.  Through his many meetings with senior executives of Chinese investment companies in Mozambique, he believed that there “was or is” a very strong “cabal” within their Maputo community, where they seemingly have very senior government officials – “possibly right up to ministerial and senior party leaders” in their “back pockets”.

He told me he has had “far too many” conversations where Chinese role-players there who have told him they can organize anything – from “manipulated environmental impact reports” to “forced removals of peoples” on possible new production/factory land (as he alleges happened in the 80 hectare area of the new Magude cement plant), to “bribed” import permits and even having been offered “US dollars” if he needs “cash” to “grease the hands of community leaders, police and governmental officials who obstruct things” – or words to such effect.

He told me that, on “several occasions” over lunches, dinners or drinks, during small chit-chat, the issue of possible “business opportunities” via “cheap-cheap” Chinese goods, “unwrought gold” and “uncut diamonds”, and even “rhino horn and ivory” has been expressed by his Chinese counterparties, informally, much to his personal dismay. And which he tells me he most politely dismissed, as if it was an absolute “non-starter” for him.

To conclude his call, he related a story of an engineering colleague who has been doing some consulting work for a Chinese company invested with a large South African corporate in building the latest “cement processing plant” in the North West province.

Sephaku – a Johannesburg Stock Exchange company that is controlled by Nigerian multi-billionaire, Aliko Dangote – is building a major cement processing plant near Lichtenburg, using a Chinese construction partner, Sinona.

Story link –

Mark is quite clear that Sephaku and its stakeholders have no part whatsoever in the “conspiracy theory” that he then related to me and this information is simply for background.

He told me that, late last year, he had dinner with his old colleague in Johannesburg. During their conversation, they discussed Chinese investment in Southern Africa, which led his colleague to tell him about a rather strange and somewhat suspicious experience he’d recently had in Lichtenburg.

Apparently Mark’s friend met with a colleague at a local hostelry for a beer after work. Sitting in the corner was a “senior engineer” of the Chinese cement-plant contracting firm he knew, plus a well-known Chinese trader in Lichtenburg. They were in deep conversation with a well-known hunting outfitter in the area, plus some unknown, seemingly-rancher type, local fellow. Apparently the hushed word in the town was that the hunting outfitter guy might have been involved in some of the “Thai prostitute” illicit rhino hunts in the region and had sometimes been seen with “Far Eastern nationals” in his company.

Mark’s buddy went over to greet his Chinese engineer counterpart, out of courtesy, and apparently everyone seemed most uneasy. They left soon afterwards, leaving a couple of unfinished drinks.

Mark told me that the point of his call to me was that everyone should always “be alert to” foreign contractors who show an “unusual interest in our wildlife”.

Point well made, though no specific findings of illicit behaviour can be made, thinks ‘moi’.


Now, let’s introduce “Devan”, who made comms with me about 24 hours after my 10 April blog was published, and he read it via a rhino-page link on Facebook. (Another unknown emailer and “private number” mobile user!)

He, too, is a South African “engineer” who has worked quite extensively in Mozambique, and his special interest area is wireless/mobile telephony, an area quite close to my own heart, so I could understand bits of what he told me.

Let me translate – in the most simple terms possible – what he was seemingly trying to tell me … since this might be the “scariest” news of all here … in my humble opinion, looking forward …

A few years ago, Mozambique licensed a 3rd cell phone network operator, namely Vietnam’s state-owned, Defence department’s, “Viettel”.

The two main players at the time were Mtel (Mozambique’s state owned telephony company – TDM – has a reported 74% in the business, which is 100% state owned) and SA’s Vodacom (via Vodafone).

According to Devan, the challenge has been funding rural roll-outs – not defined in detail in the original licensing agreements – as well as optic fibre infrastructure for broadband. Veittel won its licence tender on this basis.

Accordingly, they went “live” in 2011 and then won a major African network operator award in late 2012 –

Here are some links:

A late 2010 announcement – from what I can gather –

10 October 2011 –

16 May 2012 –

22 November 2012 –

What has this got to do with “rhino-poaching” you will ask.  Quite simple, methinks …

a. According to Devan, they now have the best rural coverage in Mozambique, especially along the Kruger National Park border and environs;

b. Again, according to Devan, Viettel has Vietnamese company management strategically placed in key towns and villages and who are seen as the “great benefactors” (using his words) of these communities, so they have ‘high-standing’ therein and access to political and communal influence;  and

c. Finally – almost critically – he’s aware that Viettel apparently owns some very ‘smart’ tracing/listening and jamming software that means – if required – “could” (and he stresses that point) “over-ride” mobile telephone networks in the Kruger National Park from the Mozambique border, for anywhere between a kilometre and, perhaps, 10 kilometres, inside the park’s eastern boundaries, depending on terrain. Such actions, if implemented, could stymie (block?) wireless connections in these park border areas, PLUS, of course, any use of drones that use such networks for mapping and flight paths. All this “subterfuge” (my word) –  according to Devan – could be “smartly used at local base stations” with the “right flick of the switches”. (Alarming, at the least, sez I!)

Well – not being too stupid and yet not bright enough to speak on such matters technically, I thought this might be a fair reflection of a “worst-case-scenario” … hence my inclusion of this insight here.


1. Fred – in Mpumalanga – believes his former employer, who is quite wealthy, but was very cash-strapped at the time, took illegally hunted and harvested rhino horns to Mozambique to sell and subsequently bought a share in a game farm there … but he’s speculating because “things don’t add up”;

2. George – a South African in Maputo – had a strange experience where a Chinese client’s key director in Maputo (in a ‘cement project’) had scheduled a very important meeting on a day, but yet, when George arrived for it, he discovered that “Chen” had been out of the office most of the previous day and had flown to Mauritius suddenly. George told me that over lunch once, “Chen” had asked him if he knew how he could “lay his hands on some rhino horn for his grandparents in China”, and was then wary of the man;

3. John – ‘criminal lawyer’ – in Maputo made comms and said there’s so much corruption in the criminal justice system that it’s surprising any cases come to court and that major corruption allegations, serious theft of state assets, etc, are routinely lost in the system, and that protecting rhino, elephants and wildlife is simply “treated as being as petty as illegal parking tickets” … another sad comment for my memory bank;

4. Mario – a Mozambique “project manager” for road construction – mailed me and we spoke very briefly. He spent about 6 months in and around Moamba in 2007/8, when a Chinese consortium apparently rebuilt a key bridge that was washed away in flooding a few years earlier. He told me that during that time he was staggered at the trade in obviously illegal DVD’s, music CD’s, cheap cigarettes and clothing – plus more – that mushroomed during his contract in the area.  Apparently, he went back last year, and had to travel to Magude. He said he’d heard stories of how “strange things” happen on the road between Magude and Massingir where men with “rifles” get dropped off and collected 2-3 days later. He suggested I get people in the area to speak more about this;

5. Jenny (a former South African in Mozambique) wrote to me about deeply-rooted corruption there. She further suggested I not be too overly optimistic about reaching schools kids because teachers and community leaders controlled what was taught and how the system operated. She gave an example of how a teenage girl, who was an AIDS orphan, was suspended from a state school because she couldn’t pay the teacher for a key exam test, whilst struggling with zero resources to feed herself and her siblings … heart-breaking stuff, in my eyes; and – finally –

6. A word of meaningful insight came via a mail from a South African that runs a major game conservation programme in Mozambique, adjacent Kruger Park. Mike wrote of  how they spend a fortune annually on supporting anti-poaching initiatives, but these are thwarted by:
– The fact that Mozambique’s laws require that they need a ‘law enforcement’ (police) officer present for suspected poacher activity arrests, which costs are for the account of the reserve, and include daily wages for ‘law enforcement’ personnel, food and any transport;
– Mozambique’s failed judicial and law enforcement system whereby they are completely challenged when there is little or no follow up over suspected poacher arrests/handovers, despite proper reporting to the authorities; and
– Fortunately – and on a very bright side – they enjoy an excellent report with SANparks over area security and liaison, thus helping provide a “buffer” defence area between rural Mozambique and KNP, as difficult and costly as it might be, much of which is funded by benefactors of the reserve.


Very clearly, and based on both the SA statistics for poaching from Mozambique nationals plus my own little “Inspector Clouseau” information, this region is a minefield of murky dealings and serious law enforcement challenges.

My initial gut feel is to put this record out there and see how the cards fall.

Meantime, I do believe a complete think-tank is required in SA to resolve how civil society can engage the government of Mozambique.

People have suggested to me that we South Africans must lobby our own government for pressure. However, my own personal experience – with respect to both human rights and environmental/animal rights, plus lawless crime in neighbouring Zimbabwe, over a decade or more – shows a futile outcome.

To my mind, given the Zimbabwean precedents of a complete lack of any government initiative, on many frontiers, engagement by Pretoria and Maputo will be merely superficial and non-interfering of mutual state affairs. Thus, serious, well-considered geo-political discussions amongst informed and understanding South Africans is a great starting place to strategize, methinks!

If anyone wants to connect with anyone else here, or post me their private thoughts, ideas and information, then please mail me –
briang.sandberg <at> gmail (dot) com …

Hope this has been stimulating food for thought for you, even if somewhat long-winded reading. It’s been a rocky road for me for a week, plus.

Before I sign off, I must relate a fascinating observation on Friday 12 April …

I was tracking user connects on my blog during the day – almost hourly, out of interest, given the seemingly huge public readership.

By mid-morning, I’d had – from memory – 9 Mozambique unique readers/viewers. None from Vietnam.

And an hour or so later, I then had 13 Mozambique connects – i.e. 4 new ones. I was interested, given I’d had about 4 Mozambique unique viewers over the previous 12 months of blogging!.

About an hour later, I had 16 Mozambique connects and TWO from Vietnam.  Maybe completely unrelated, but I found it strange to get such an update from Mozambique and possible connects to Vietnam. Wish I could interrogate the user stats to see locations. Out of about 40 unique page-views in 2 hours or so, it seems most strange that 9 were from Mozambique & Vietnam, both not conforming with general viewer trends.

C’est la vie … 

Thank you for reading thus far and please remember copyright issues do subsist here, and – of course – the security of some important folk who’ve chosen to speak to me OTR – ‘off-the-record’. Please handle all this info with due care … thank you!

Brian Sandberg 
Durban. South Africa


Mozambique: Internal politics and the illicit trade of rhino horn, ivory and Marange diamonds

After spending almost 3 hours with an astute and seemingly well-informed national of Mozambique on Easter Monday – over a beer and burger in Durban – I’ve now gained a far greater insight into some of the complexities of illicit trade in wildlife, diamonds and arms in our region.

This blog offers some background as to why SA faces a poaching onslaught, mainly from Mozambique nationals targeting Kruger National Park, and – as such – this seemingly links back to the historical FRELIMO-RENAMO armed conflict there, plus rising tensions in the country again as their national elections loom next year.

Whilst I am deeply concerned about rhino-poaching and links to Mozambique nationals – plus, of course, illegal ivory trade (and poaching) regionally from elephants – I’m also acutely aware of how controlled trade in Marange diamonds fuels human rights abuses in my motherland.

It was this specific Zimbabwean ‘diamond’ issue that led to a trusted Zim rights activist connecting me with ‘X’ (as I shall call him) over the Easter weekend.

What I learned from ‘X’ can seemingly be validated by some simple online research and it gives some real context to 3 rights activist groups, namely human rights activists in Zimbabwe, animal rights activists in SA and beyond, and human rights activists in Mozambique.

For this blog, I’m going to centre on rhino-poaching challenges and inputs from ‘X’.  (My own thoughts and insight into Zim and Moz human rights issues are best dealt with outside social media.)


As a sociologist, historian and political scientist, ‘X’ is currently doing a doctoral thesis in SA, through a leading university in Europe,  related to regional conflict resolutions.

Thus, I need to establish his ‘bona fides’ and background here, before I write about any illicit trade and political threats from Mozambique, as I understand his story told me.

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.)

His father was a migrant worker in a coal mine near Breyten (Mpumalanga, in SA) and his mother was a teacher, in a primary school at a mission, near Massingir.

His eldest sibling was a brother, 9 years older than him, and the next 2 siblings were sisters, 4 and 7 years older.

His father, in the early days of mine work, came home annually over Christmas holidays, but – in later years – this became a visit every 2-3 years. He apparently met and married a South African lady and started another family in the Breyten area.

X’s mother – through her church links, seemingly – supported RENAMO in their struggle against the socialist-led FRELIMO, for the independence of Mozambique.

Meantime, ‘X’s’ father was now involved in trade unionism in SA and they supported FRELIMO.  In an infrequent visit home, in the mid-1980’s, where he clearly connected with local FRELIMO supporters, he was forced to publicly beat his wife for her political affiliations and ‘rape’ her.  Nine months later, ‘X’ was born and, most sadly, he never got to meet his father.

Two years later, after then President Samora Machel died in the tragic plane crash on South African soil, there was a seeming blitz by FRELIMO on anyone in Mozambique with RENAMO sympathies, given the SA government openly backed RENAMO.

“X’s” brother was ‘kidnapped’ into a child-soldier unit by FRELIMO. Neither he, nor his sisters, have ever heard from him again. (Or their father.)

His mother was brutally assaulted and gang-raped by FRELIMO loyalists. His young sisters were also raped.

The church, as some form of social support, relocated the family to a mission near Xai-Xai. His mother, sadly, passed away a few days before her elder daughter qualified as a nursing sister. Her younger daughter became a teacher, and both are still strong social justice activists in Mozambique – without party allegiances – and happily married there.

‘X’ – with the help of his church – finished school and was granted a scholarship to study at a leading African university. He completed his first post-graduate degree in the USA, and his second in the Netherlands, both on scholarships.

I asked if I could organize for him to tell his story to the media and he declined. He told me he was on a quest to “establish the truth” of an important era in Mozambique’s recent history, and – if he became published – it would impact on this and almost certainly undermine the lives of his sisters.

Having been down such a road before, with other activists, I fully understand and offer absolute due respect.

Here is his broad-based thinking via our discussion on illicit trade, regionally, that fuels military conflict…


The map above shows the following:

(a) Massingir, at the southern end of the Limpopo National Park, which eastern border follows the Limpopo River. For the record, this park was re-established a decade ago, as part of the proposed Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park as shown here, linking Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou and Mozambique’s Zinave and Banhine National Parks – ;

(b) The Chibabava District, between Chimoio and Beira, south of the Gorongoza National Park;

(c) The Zimbabwean Marange diamond fields, south-west of Mutare;

(d) Three key provinces in Mozambique, namely Manica, Sofala and Gaza; and

(e) The Kruger National Park in South Africa.

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.

Almost 50% of Mozambique’s civil service wage bill is paid by foreign donor nations, and that is decreasing. It’s tax revenue base is far lower than South Africa’s, even on a pro-rata GDP basis, but slowly growing.

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.

Politically, RENAMO – which attained over 40% of the seats in the first democratically-elected parliament – has been totally excluded from mainstream government. Having lost nearly 60% of their parliamentary base over the last 3 elections, they’ve become restive, fractious and belligerent.

Afonso Dhlakama, the party leader, has retreated to his party base in Chibabava, with an estimated 800+ armed supporters. Recently there was an attack on the police station, and ‘X’ said more attacks would follow. (A few days after he told me this, a South African Translux bus was attacked, seemingly by RENAMO, and 2 passengers were killed.)

Now – let’s ‘back-track’.

In Julian Rademeyer’s remarkable book about rhino poaching, “Killing for profit” (Randomstruik, 2012 –, 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.

As ‘X’ spent more than a week in the Massingir area shortly before Christmas 2012 (being a former community member and now visitor), simply asking probing questions here and there, he believes the entire police force in the area has been “bought” by “middlemen” that are former RENAMO supporters, but are now networked into bigger crime syndicates. (He says RENAMO now have little or no real support in the district, and many FRELIMO supporters are ex-RENAMO “chameleons”.)

So now you’ve got the picture.


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. (He’s more concerned with Mozambique becoming more politically and socially inclusive, and changing their constitution and laws accordingly.)

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.

As for Marange diamond illicit trade, he felt that – until Zimbabwe managed a proper, transparent and accountable trading operation that complied with global standards – RENAMO and crime syndicates would flourish in Mozambique. To him  –  this is more important than ‘rhino horn’ and ‘ivory’ because it’s more easily transportable and bankable, in a conflict situation.

Makes one think! 


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 fueled 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. 


Oscar Pistorius & Reeva Steenkamp – a shattered dream !


Valentine’s Day will never be the same again for me.

In its stead – from now on – I will dedicate this universal day of twosome love to the memory of Reeva Steenkamp, Anene Booysen, and the millions of other women, worldwide, who have trusted – and unwittingly allowed – men of power to take any undue advantage of them, how or whatsoever.

By power, I mean via a route that is physical, psychological or of material influence, or any combination thereof.

As Lord Acton wrote in 1887:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

So many thoughts have flowed through my mind over the past 3 days, and I’d like to deal with a few key points here.

Firstly – Reeva Steenkamp and honouring her memory.

Like most, I knew nothing about this beautiful young woman until after the tragedy. However, three very positive things now stand out for me:

– She qualified as a lawyer, with plans to become an advocate, which is not an easy road in jurisprudence. This means she was not only bright, but had developed a sense of what is right-and-wrong, coupled with an understanding of law. This is an extremely valuable quality for anyone to possess;

– She attracted work in the modelling world, as a result of her physical attributes, and clearly saw an opportunity to use her natural assets whilst young, and so put them to good use. The fact that she tweeted about the appalling abuse and violence against women a day or two before her tragic death, plus had been scheduled to speak on this subject on Valentine’s Day evening, means she was wisely adding value in our communal social justice sphere, which is really admirable; and

– Last, but not least, I am so impressed by the dignified silence her family has taken in this ugly turn of events. That, for me, shows that she has grown up in a close-knit, loving family of good values. I sense she then carried that light into her own life.

Thus, I firmly believe that, in whatever road that lies ahead, we must never forget that we’ve lost a hugely valuable member of our community who surely would have added more value to our world than what she might have taken from it. On that basis, we must not allow her victimhood to become yet another statistic in our brutal and crime-ridden society.

We must keep her flame alive, as a tribute to others less fortunate who’ve paid the supreme price … and will still do so.

Secondly – we must seriously look into our own thinking and behaviour, as citizens of this land we love so dearly.

Whilst I am the ‘eternal-optimist’, and am often guilty of over-promoting positivism in the face of realism, I can be pragmatic. Thus, I am as guilty as the next for taking Oscar Pistorius and putting him on a pedestal.

I’ve thought long and hard about this.

Our modern world of glitterati and twitterati helps create a sense of false well-being amongst us all. So when dark clouds gather – as happens in this nation of a fractured rainbow daily – we snatch any little pieces of ‘silver-linings’ and hold them close to our bosoms. Readily and easily.

We shower ‘adoration’ on human beings daily, whether they be film-stars, musicians, royalty or leaders in the realms of business, politics and social causes.

Like for so many others across our land – and the world – Oscar’s fall from grace has been a massive reality check for me, specifically since I’ve been so active in recent times on social media championing his banner.

As I said – I’m just as guilty as Joe or Jenny Bloggs of this, but – yet again – having been wounded by this specific turn of events, I’m going to try to be a little more diligent in researching those people whom I might champion in the future. I think we all should, but I admit that it’s easier said than done.

Thirdly – and I believe this is very important – South Africa is a fledgling democracy, a long way off maturity.

What democracy is all about is that, principally, the “people shall govern”.

This means that we need to understand that political leaders represent OUR interests, and that when legislators – i.e. OUR electees – enact laws, they must mirror OUR collective values and needs. In the process, we must have independent courts and magistrates/judges, PLUS we must have a free and independent media that acts as a communal watchdog over our civic interests.

Many people bemoan the fact that the media have speculated on certain issues of this case and even reported on certain alleged facts.

I believe this is a very healthy democracy in play, provided that such actions are mature, objective and responsible. Given the fact that the Pistorius team has resources to fight untruths and innuendos, we must trust our editors to receive good counsel before publication, or else they could face serious litigation. So there is a fair balance in play in this untoward matter.

I grew up when John F Kennedy was assassinated, and John Lennon, and many others. A good press interrogated those stories in depth, well before such things got to court, precisely because they were in the “national interest” and beyond. Likewise, the tragic death of Princess Diana.

Accordingly, we must support the media to research more and inform us all, as the court case evolves.

One must never forget that we, as South Africans, do not have a USA-jury based system. Instead, our courts are empowered – by law – to take the voices and mood of its citizens into account in matters before them.

This is such a valuable aspect of jurisprudence because it means that our laws and court judgments can mirror the times in which we live, and adjust to changing social conditions.

Accordingly, I would argue that the media must continue playing its key role in this matter, as it has done in so many other “public interest” stories. Marikana, Nkandla, state corruption and so much more springs to mind.


Against these 3 issues I raise, I need to address the point I wish to make here.

As an activist seeking justice against the ‘bloody’ rhino and elephant poaching scourge across our African lands, I cannot help but think that roughly FOUR times as many women died at the hands of domestic violence last year (2012) in SA, when compared to poached rhino. (According to a recent report from the South African Institute of Race Relations.)

Most of South Africa’s citizenry are outraged at this brutal onslaught our rhinos face, BUT – and here’s the caveat – on a purely numeric basis, there should be FOUR times the civic outrage against this domestic violence that engulfs our nation. However – I’m not seeing such a barometer.

There are literally hundreds of NGO’s raising funds and being hyper-active in the development of rhino-security, but I don’t see the same level of commitment and consciousness for supporting a handful of NGO’s doing amazing work in this space of woman and child abuse, and specifically domestic violence. There’s a skewed sense of reality here. IMHO.

There is now no doubt that the Oscar Pistorius case is one of domestic violence that is certainly being proven to have been utterly uncalled for. The law will take its course in the our courts, but there is irrefutable evidence of a wrongful use of force that has resulted in an ugly and most tragic loss of life.

THAT is the crux of domestic violence.

To conclude –

I cannot, and will not, stay silent on such matters.

I will therefore lobby hard that WE – as South Africans – and a wider humanity – treat ANY and ALL violence in our communities with utter contempt and outrage, especially if it is against the most vulnerable of our nation. Our woman, our children, our poor and dispossessed, and our precious wildlife, for whom we have a custodial obligation to protect their rights.

We must all be very clear on this, and put away our hopes and dreams, and focus on a bloody and brutal reality of violent crime. And speak out more, strongly and actively, in any and every forum.

The fact is that Oscar Pistorius took a life for which he had no right whatsoever.

I don’t care whether he is a global sports star, or an impoverished drug- or liquor-induced man in a community of utter hopelessness. He MUST be treated equally before the law, or else we fail our constitution – dismally – by promoting more inequality in our land, which is precisely why the new SA was given birth 19 short years ago.

That is what protecting our maturing democracy is all about. Delivering a more caring, just and equal society to those that come after us.

And – in this process – should he be denied bail, I would support the state’s application 101%, as this is what I demand of other heinous crime perpetrators.

As for the NMMU graphic I’ve used above, I chose it because the image is fractured.  Oscar has undoubtedly shattered our fragile ‘rainbow’.

For Reeva and all the victims of abuse and violence, we must carefully put those rainbow jigsaw pieces back together again. For the light and sunshine of a brighter tomorrow. For all of us. And their collective memories.

They must not have died in vain.

Brian Sandberg
Durban. South Africa.
18 February 2013.


This is my own opinion and neither the whole, nor any part thereof, may be used in any form of re-publication without my express written permission. This is a very sensitive matter and it requires due care.

This blog – in its format here – may be shared widely, but extracts will be considered illegal, without due permission.


Ela Gandhi supports call for justice against Aggett interrogators



On 30 January, 2013, leading South African social justice activist and grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ela Gandhi, led our nation in a fitting tribute to Gandhiji’s tragic assassination in New Delhi, 65 years earlier.

In her inspirational memorial in Durban that day – and covered by print, electronic and social media – she called for us all to embrace the values by which the Mahatma lived and died.

It is therefore fitting that a few days later, in honouring the 31st anniversary of Neil Aggett’s death in South African police detention, she has issued a letter endorsing the Neil Aggett Support Group’s call to SA’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hon Jeff Radebe, MP,  to finally address the prosecution of the police officers involved in that heinous crime.

As an old school friend of Neil’s – and a coordinator of this group – I must place on record how hugely honoured I have felt, personally, to have Dr. Gandhi’s terrific support in this matter, via her strongly worded letter to our wider collective.

Here is the Letter to Minister Radebe sent about 16h00 on Monday, 4 February –
(Right click to open in new window – PDF download)

Here is the SA media statement released about 16h30 on Monday, 4 February –
(Right click to open in new window – PDF download)

MINISTER JEFF RADEBE replies – copy letter dated 09 July 2013 – received by NASG 13 July 2013 –
(Right click to open in new window – PDF download)

Here is a full transcript of Ela Gandhi’s letter:

Durban. South Africa.
03 February 2013.

The Neil Aggett Support Group,

May I lend my support to the work you are doing towards attaining justice in respect of Neil Aggett who was indeed a brave and a committed South African struggle hero.

I fully support your appeal following Judge Chris Nicholson’s speech at the Aggett biography book-launch.  I fully endorse his statement, “We know from Gandhi that silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”

As a former member of the Detainees Support Committee (DESCOM) in Durban, I fully support the call for an investigation and prosecution of those who were responsible for Neil’s death in detention.   Although the TRC process was meant to heal the wounds of the past and to facilitate a process of reconciliation, it was also aimed to ensure that justice is seen to be done.   These men who acted with impunity and cruelty have to realise and repent for their guilt.  Without such a process we cannot say that justice has been done.  The TRC process was never meant to cover up and leave such inhumane deeds as the one perpetrated on Neil to be left without any due process.  I therefore fully support your appeal to the state for justice especially since they do not consider themselves guilty and have not in any way repented for their nefarious deeds.

These men who have been guilty of gross violations of human rights, need to be prosecuted and there have to be due process of justice.  There also needs to be urgently imposed restrictions on these perpetrators of crime against humanity, not to be able to pursue vocations where the community is dependent on them for security.  This lack of action in fact is jeopardising the safety and security of the country.

There is an urgent need for there to be some form of restorative justice so that the families and friends as well as the community at large feel that justice is seen to be done and that steps have been taken to ensure that such violations will never again occur.  For the confidence of the community to be restored in the justice system it becomes even more imperative that this be done urgently.

Best wishes

Ela  Gandhi


John Hume’s voice needs to be heard – as a significant rhino owner, globally …


I’ve read John Hume’s published letter today and – frankly – I have some serious reservations.

However – because of my doubts – it doesn’t mean that I – or anyone else – cannot engage him on such a critical issue, since he owns the largest private population of rhino on this ancient earth, and therefore has a very significant opinion that should be given oxygen … in my humble opinion.

Here is his letter that I received earlier today and which I’ve now converted to downloadable PDF format –

Hume.Revised letter Final

Just as I have said to many folk that there are seemingly “50 shades of grey”, so do I believe possible rhino horn trade covers such a wide ambit.

I believe this entire dialogue path on any possible, legalized trade should be carefully – and most objectively – trodden.

As but one little, concerned voice, I will dissect my assessment of Mr. Hume’s position in the days ahead and respond more fully. Upfront – there are more questions than answers, though I do understand ’50 shades of grey’ …

Brian Sandberg 
Durban. South Africa.
11 January 2013. 


Time to support Dr. Ian Player’s call for legal ‘rhino-horn’ trade, but – with conditions …


I know that I’m merely one small voice in a spectrum of regional and global voices of ‘rhinophiles’, who cry out daily to stop the carnage of poaching in South Africa, but I believe I can add some value to the complex – and often highly emotive landscape – of conservation, and, more specifically, growing and protecting this iconic species.

As a reference point, I have chosen to endorse the broad-based view of Dr. Ian Player, who is, and has been, undoubtedly the pre-eminent public face of the species protection – globally – for more than 50 years. As cliched as it might sound, I have learned more about conservation and this species from listening to, and reading, his wise counsel over many years than from any other conservator I’ve heard, read or engaged.

A number of readers here might not understand the rich legacy he has bequeathed this “ancient earth” – as he calls it – and Africa, and our treasured rhino species – so I will add some highly informative links in my footnotes at the end here. I believe they will add an objective perspective for those who rely simply on emotive polemics but have little background knowledge.

He’s called for a mature, objective dialogue on the matter, so I’m throwing my hat in that ring here.


In January 2012 – and even before – I stated publicly that I would endorse certain trade in rhino-horn, BUT – subject to some very key conditions.

With parliamentary hearings on rhino poaching matters held around that time in SA and the subsequent appointment of a “Rhino Issue” task team by our Department of Environmental Affairs to canvas all stakeholders and public opinion on the matter, I remained generally silent, looking to those who knew more than me to proffer sustainable solutions.

Whilst I have always believed that a serious dialogue over potential legal trade in horns was an option – and that seems to be the broad consensus from this stakeholder project – I am hugely encouraged that our Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, felt the initial report was incomplete and tasked the “Rhino Issue Manager”, Mavuso Msimang, to continue the team’s work and provide more detail early in 2013.

I salute the Minister for this objective decision, as my somewhat limited knowledge of various inputs and recommendations also points to a paucity of detail and a clearly defined solution, if indeed ‘legalized trade’ is one of the core solutions.

My singular aim here is to provide some ‘flesh and muscle’ (call it ‘horn’ if you will – LOL!) to the skeleton of a ‘legal trade’ concept, since I know of no specifics that offer a more holistic solution, considering my semi-outsider knowledge of most parties’ submissions to this crucial national engagement.


In the weeks ahead, I will write a detailed proposal, but – for now – my broad-based thinking – although lengthy, because of deeply complex issues – addresses some critical issues, for me, anyway, and they are laid out as follows:

1. Investment in African conservation:

It is an indisputable fact that Africa is home to much of the planet’s greatest natural resources, wilderness areas and wildlife.

It is equally indisputable that the continent’s historical underdevelopment of our people and nations is starting to reverse and this is fast placing inordinate pressures on our finite natural heritage. Whether one likes it or not, human development – which is an absolute necessity – impacts greatly on the environment and new, cohesive thinking is required to deal with such major challenges in ensuring sustainable development for humankind and nature-kind.

By 2050, it is estimated there will be two billion Africans on the continent – double today’s population – and, unless quality economic development can take place, several hundred million Africans under the age of 30 will be consigned to a life of poverty and hopelessness.

This alone is cause for grave concern as many of the areas of social deprivation, poor infrastructure development and poverty are adjacent, or in close proximity, to wilderness areas. There is a plethora of research to support proof that most poaching and illicit wildlife trading is sourced from such communities. I cannot prove via scientific data but I can fairly safely assume that, whilst Africa’s total population will double by 2050, these communities will more than double, simply by virtue of increased life expectancy and poor socio-economic rural development programmes and investment by governments.

As democratic development takes root, more and more governments will be under increasing pressure from their electorates to spend more and more of their limited resources on human development needs, and less and less on natural resource protection, leaving little hope for any further development of wilderness areas and wildlife species.

New sources of revenue and investment will need to be found, over and above developing eco-tourism further. We cannot escape the harsh reality that ‘smarter, justifiable and transparent’ trade in by-products of wildlife is an imperative of the future. Governments simply do not, and will not, have the financial resources to meet the needs of African conservation in the decades ahead. And neither will international donors. There has to be a multi-pronged approach.

In my simple business model – assuming CITES approves trade in rhino horn from natural mortality in 2016 and that the range states and consumer states meet all the requirements by 2018 – then, for a period of 31 years, I project, by 2050, the following can potentially be achieved:

a. The rhino population in African range states will approach 100 000;

b. About ONE BILLION US$ will be invested in conservation by African rhino owners, the majority of whom are national agencies of rhino range states and need new revenues to survive and hopefully grow;

c. Approximately US$ 180 million will be invested in NGO programmes in African rhino range states, with some of revenues applied to non-range states for key conservation programmes;

d. Approximately US$ 125 million will be invested in NGO programmes in China and Vietnam to develop greater conservation projects and reduce illicit wildlife trade and any commercial dependency on threatened and endangered species; and

e. Approximately US$ 25 million will be invested in NGO programmes in Asian rhino range states in order to arrest and positively turnaround the imminent extinction of more of the rhino sub-species.

(A graphic posted after this summary section shows more. My final detailed proposal will have accompanying financial model spreadsheets to support these projections.)

2. ‘Wildlife Trading Company’:

This must be a transparent, clearly defined, centralized ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ that is structured to maximize social responsibility investment (SRI) in conservation, wilderness and species development, skills development, law enforcement and consumer education, whilst securing well-managed distribution channels to avoid both ‘black-market’ dealers and opportunistic spectulators who might otherwise manipulate markets via proposed auction platforms.

The company must be co-owned by the majority of African rhino owners in partnership with a ‘Wildlife Development Trust’ that shall be led by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, to ensure high standards of corporate governance, ‘fair trade’ (if one might call it that) and the efficient and optimal application of SRI funds for pre-agreed programmes.

The ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ shall form subsidiary companies in China and Vietnam that shall be joint-ventures between the state and civil society stakeholders in each country. These subsidiaries will act as wholesale distributors, trading directly with registered traditional medicine practitioners, subject to stringent compliance standards and monitoring, all supported by legislation and active law enforcement in both regions.

I can find no organization anywhere worldwide that is structured in such a manner, for such a key purpose. So, I believe it could become an international pilot that eventually might set a benchmark for possible trade in other threatened or endangered species, under certain strict conditions. Through high standards of transparency and public reporting, valuable lessons should be learned and shared and which, hopefully, will impact positively on the protection and development of many other thousands of species that are subject to both illicit trade and/or current commercial trade where poor oversight and compliance exists.

Primary ownership of WTC must vest with rhino-horn owners. I would think 10-15% of them should be from rhino-range states outside South Africa, and the share allocation should be in some kind of ratio to both ownership of existing horn stock piles, as well as rhino owners that wish to trade future mortality stock. Some form of contractual supply agreement annually for at least the first few years (from stockpiles) would most likely best serve the allocation of shares – whether they be state, parastatal or private owners.

3. ‘Wildlife Development Trust’

The ‘Wildlife Trading Company’ (WTC) shall be incorporated in South Africa and 25% of its issued share capital shall be held by the ‘Wildlife Development Trust’ (WDT).

Its founding ‘rules’ and shareholder agreements will specify key processes, policies and parameters. Any changes to critically designated items will require a shareholder resolution supported by 75% plus one share of the shareholders. This will ensure any possible changes designed to meet purely commercial needs of the 75% rhino-owner shareholders could be blocked if the WDT deems the organization’s founding values and objectives are not being served optimally.

Stocks of rhino horns from duly authenticated natural mortality – all DNA recorded and processed according to traditional medicine practitioner needs – will be exported from WTC-SA to either WTC-China or WTC-Vietnam. A percentage of these export sales will accrue to the WDT for specific pre-agreed programmes. A margin on purchases from rhino horn owners will allow for reasonable operating costs and a small return on sales (suggest 3%) for shareholders.

A similar model will be used in the two JV companies of the WTC in China and Vietnam, with the WDT strategically partnering key stakeholders and NGO’s in those countries to optimize the application of those SRI funds effectively and transparently.

The WTC shall be a public company and will publish detailed annual reports widely and the WDT will also ensure its operations and fund applications (with monitoring thereof) are similarly subject to wide public scrutiny.

4. Why a separate public-benefit trust ? 

Over many years, I have engaged many community leaders in areas adjacent to private or state wilderness areas. I’ve also read dozens of reports by numerous researchers and sustainable development agencies. There is a common thread that runs through all my related experiences – land ownership disputes and ‘trickle-down’ benefits.

It is common knowledge – supported by extensive research – that most of Africa’s proclaimed wilderness areas involved the relocation of traditional communities onto new and underdeveloped lands outside these reserves’ boundaries. In the private sector – often called ‘wildlife ranching’ – this is equally true. This has created historical tensions and bitterness, and is mostly still unaddressed.

Additionally, many of the more contemporary developments of wilderness areas have been done on the back of ‘strategic community partnering’, but yet the biosphere developers seemingly – and I speak broadly here – pay ‘lip service’ to attributable revenue sharing and benefits. Some programmes work exceptionally well. Many fail dismally. Again, failed partnerships create conflict and so potential retribution results, thus fueling breeding grounds for wildlife crime.

Boards of both public and private sector “wildness enterprises” need to maximize revenues for their respective future sustainability. They create business models based on profits from related trade (in accommodation, viewing, filming, hunting, ‘live’ animal sales, hunting, concessions, and more), but yet they do not define – in most simple terms – what constitutes a valid cost against profit.

This means that social responsibility investment (SRI) and strategic partner revenue sharing is subject to other operational cost pressures of the respective enterprise. No wonder projected income distributions to affected communities and ‘strategic partners’ are subject to constant tensions. No wonder poaching across Africa is off the Richter scale.

Owning or managing a wilderness area – or rights thereto – plus all its natural life thereof – is not like owning a business that makes widgets, or someone owning a private home or vehicle.

It embraces a unique and custodial obligation on those under whose care the entire legacy of humanity devolves, since man created borders, but nature didn’t. To me, it’s like a guardian obligation in running an orphanage. The administrators – whether the state, or an NGO, or a private sector enterprise – have both a fiduciary responsibility and a conservator-value obligation to diligently manage any and all related outcomes.

The widget factory owner can define his or her terms of business, trade or engagement. As can a private property owner. Flora and fauna, and our “ancient earth”, with its waters and sky, cannot. They need a defined and social compact from all stakeholders in their assumed preservation.

Hence a much-needed independent trust, led by elders in rhino conservation, and supported by an advisory board of related conservators of our planet, who – together – will define the final outcomes.  They will ensure social responsible investment via pre-guaranteed ‘royalties and/or commissions’ on all wildlife by-product sales, pro-rated to rhino-owners’ related communities and programmes.

Any commercial use of the planet’s finite resources requires stringent oversight, independent eyes and knowledge, plus a fully accountable relationship with the world’s citizenry. More so in Africa, because of Afro-pessimism, widespread corruption and lack of proper corporate governance, with accountability and transparency.

5. Traditional medicine and respect for cultures: 

I am a human rights activist and I often see my greatest challenge is promoting an ethos of mutual respect and dignity amongst all humanity. The United Nations Charter defines this obligation of all of us that are linked to this global body through our member states.

I have long said that one cannot fight for environmental rights issues unless one places an equitable emphasis on human rights issues. This, for me, is about acknowledging our interconnectedness. Our souls intertwined with mother earth. Our Yin and Yang, as it were.

As part of this respect and dignity process, one needs to pay special attention to traditional medicine and its related practices. Such wellness programmes are hugely prevalent here on my beloved continent, as they are in nations like China and Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Western critics are often quick to denounce these therapies which have endured in these regions for many, many centuries, but they readily forget that their own ancestors also relied on natural healing. Nowadays, many critics of traditional medicines themselves promote natural remedies and organic foodstuffs – and even repudiate ‘synthetic’ modern medicine and food – but yet they fail to recognize the evolution of this combined knowledge over millennia. That – to me, anyway – smacks of some kind of selective partisanship.

In terms of medicinal value of rhino horn, I cannot opine, save to say that the lengthy desktop research I’ve done over months indicates centuries of some valid therapy – in either physiological or psychological terms, or both – plus some seemingly inconclusive research analysis amongst more modern practitioners and researchers as to any potential efficacy, without any properly managed, independent studies done in China, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Based simply on my own limited knowledge and research, coupled with my enormous respect for traditional medical practices worldwide, I must refrain from taking a position on whether or not ‘rhino horn’ is an effective therapy or not. It needs a global study,  under independent, universal clinical trial standards, agreed by both modern and ancient medicine practitioners.

Again, as a human rights activist, I subscribe fully to the dictum that the globally accepted ‘precautionary principle’ must be adopted.

In simple terms – one cannot change that which has long been held as common practice, or in certain circumstances, without objective and scientific proof.

In addition to independent, international clinical trials, I must also call for an independent and detailed market analysis, that not only looks into potential supply and demand scenarios, coupled with possible pricing mechanisms, but also trade in other threatened and endangered species.

To conclude this point on respecting traditional medicine: I am acutely aware that certain traditional medicine practices abuse our natural heritage. There are, again, many studies in this arena, and criticisms, as well as calls for bans of such therapies. Of course, as an environmental rights supporter, I endorse such actions. No natural life must be subjected to any abuse whatsoever by cultural and traditional healing practices.

However – there is clearly no link to any level of wildlife suffering should a ‘guardian’ of a rhino ‘donate’ (or ‘trade’)  part of their mortal remains for the practice of healing.

In fact – it might just stop this iconic species from being utterly decimated and, hopefully, lead to a new era of smartly-managed wildlife trade that stops poaching … if widely considered, as well as being widely debated and endorsed, with – of course – support from a strongly committed, national and international law enforcement.

We all need to be mature and objective in this emotive debate-space.

6. Allocating Social Responsibility Investment revenues 

In my opinion, the WDT needs to operate as a ‘programme hub’, managed and overseen by a secretariat.  This, led by a board of eminent persons, should operate as ‘lean and mean’ as possible, to maximize the application of revenues.

Additionally, as the secretariat would be charged with oversight and management of funds raised in China and Vietnam for programmes there, a smaller secretariat in each country would perform similar tasks in their regions.

I envisage FIVE programmes, although I am more than open to engage on specifics, and I see each programme having an equitable share of the divided revenues. Each programme would have it’s own ‘board’ or committee, comprising experienced and knowledgeable  persons in that particular subject. The allocation of funds should be done on a quarterly, bi-annual or annual basis, thereby ensuring the majority of their work can be done online, on a part-time basis. In effect, it would operate similar to a LOTTO distribution project where worthy causes and applicants apply for grant funding, related to each programme’s defined criteria.

Additionally, in SA and rhino range states, funds would broadly be allocated to respective programmes in those areas and communities near or adjacent to those biospheres from where rhino horn was sourced for trade.  This is a little difficult to be specific over when one might have many sources for stock, so some smart thinking needs to be applied, to ensure reasonable equitability, without allocating very small amounts where little can be accomplished.

The secretariat would levy each programme fund a management fee, to ensure the WDT’s operational cost needs are met.

Broadly, my suggested 5 programmes are:

a. Wilderness Development –

With more land being taken by urbanization, deforestation, agriculture and enterprise, it is imperative to keep growing wilderness areas and rehabilitating them.

b. Environmental Protection –

This must cover the wide ambit from physical protection issues, where support is needed, to training and strengthening law enforcement capacity, as well as growing environmental law practice and actions, coupled with legislative development and lobbying.

c. Research and Skills Development –

Individual and institutional cadetship, bursary, scholarship and research grant funding for environmental matters has become increasingly important. This programme would enhance this burgeoning need, especially for students and researchers sourced from communities near related wilderness areas.

d. Eco-enterprise Development –

Developing eco-tourism opportunities for communities surrounding wilderness areas requires investment funding support, as does innovation, product development and programme implementation for better, healthier and more sustainable communities. There are several good agencies to strategically partner with in this programme.

e. Communication and Public Awareness –

My particular concern is reaching our youth in schools and their communities, particularly surrounding wilderness areas. I’ve seen some excellent work by some NGO’s, but – generally – this facet needs more focus.

With respect to allocation of funds in range states outside SA, to general African programmes and specifics for those in China and Vietnam, wide input and extensive dialogue should generate viable spending on related programmes.

In simple terms, when looking at South Africa primarily – as the following graphic will show – each programme would spend around half a million US$ per annum. Smartly allocated and correctly spent, these monies could do an enormous amount of good .


In terms of parameters I have used, here are the core essentials –

a. Legal trade commences late 2018 – early 2019;

b. At that point, I’ve taken the total African range state population of both white and black rhino at 20 000;

c. I’ve grown populations at 5% annually, noting that figures of 6.2% and better have been recorded;

d. I’ve assumed an average life span of 40 years – thus a 2.5% mortality rate annually – when some experts put the average life expectancy at 35-38 years;

e. I’ve assumed a ‘starting stockpile’ of 15 000 kgs, although figures of upwards of 20 000 have been mentioned by knowledgeable commentators;

f. I’ve grown annual sales volumes by 2.5% per annum, in line with the mortality rate;

g. I’ve no fixed opinion on pricing, which I would hope might come down a little over time, and rise a little in the short to medium term. So I simply took an end-consumer price of US$ 25 000 per kilogram, allowed a retail mark-up of approximately 75-80%, excluded VAT (China – 17% and Vietnam 10%) and arrived at a wholesale price of US$ 12 000 per kg;

h. I then allowed the purchase price from owners to be subject to a wholesale mark-up of 50%, so I could allocate 20% of wholesale turnover to SRI programmes, and leave sufficient margin for SA and China-Vietnam operating company expenses, with a small return for shareholders;

i. I kept purchase and wholesale prices constant over the period, simply to get a perspective on SRI income and potential returns for rhino horn owners. That way, if someone believes horn prices should be doubled or halved, for example, they can apply the same factor to SRI projected revenues; and

j. I split sales between China and Vietnam on a 75:25 basis, as well as splitting the 20% SRI allocation 50:50 between regional trading operations, save for the fact that I took 10% of each SRI spend in China and Vietnam and re-allocated it back to general African conservation programmes to align any NGO work there with reciprocal work in Africa.


Where to from here ?

Dr. Player has called for a serious conversation between all interested parties. I’m simply adding my little voice in that mix.

HOWEVER – I mentioned I have some conditions before I would formally support legalized rhino-horn trade. Here they are:

1. I do NOT support any trade in any horn harvested from a ‘live’ rhino. Dehorning has only come about because of poaching. Our primary focus is to eradicate this scourge, thereby making dehorning in the future no longer necessary. Additionally, it crosses the threshold for me of the fine line between ‘farming’ and preserving and developing ‘wildness’;

2. I do NOT support proposed auctions in SA – at OR Tambo airport – or anywhere else. Auctions allow too much ‘speculation’ for consumer pricing. Besides, product distribution can still be manipulated by current poaching syndicates and ‘black-market’ dealers, even if ‘masked’ via seemingly legitimate buyers. IF there is to be any LEGAL trade whatsoever, it must be strictly for the purpose of supplying traditional medicine practitioners and the entire supply chain must be controlled, to ensure monitoring of regulatory compliance. I’ve never heard of an auction by a ‘pharmaceutical’ company to sell antibiotics, for example. If one is to respect traditional medicine, we should apply similar values;


3. I do NOT support ANY legal trading entity or ‘rhino-horn owner’ consortium project that does NOT have a substantial SRI programme that is auditable, measurable and transparent, plus includes a beneficial input and oversight role by civil society and independent conservators. Particularly in this highly sensitized matter and – even more particularly – in respect of the growing mountain of challenges we face in ‘wildness’ protection and development in SA, and Africa at large.

So now – let further conversations arise … via another perspective here!

Brian Sandberg
Durban. South Africa.
20 December 2012.


Some compelling links to critical matters that Dr. Player raises – – His address to the World Wilderness Conference in Alaska in 2005 – His website – The Wilderness Foundation he founded and inspired – The WILD Foundation (USA) that he helped found and inspire

And lastly … for obvious reasons … a “caveat” …


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 88 other followers

Blog Readership Stats

  • 35,093 = Number of visitors here

%d bloggers like this: