Posts Tagged ‘Kruger National Park


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. 


Rhino crisis – Declaration of WAR – letter to President Zuma

13 January 2012

WAR declared in South Africa –

A new, emergency civic coalition of several organizations with more than 20 000 members in total has been launched today to fight the massive scourge of rhino poaching facing our country: 

WARRIORS for AFRICAN RHINO (W.A.R.) – Media Statement – 13 January 2012:

Link to copy of official media statement in South Africa: 


 W.A.R. calls on President J.G. Zuma to declare the Kruger National Park and two adjoining provinces “disaster areas” to enable more state resources to urgently be mobilized.

Link to copy of official letter sent electronically to the President’s office at 16h45 on 13 January 2012:


LATE ADDITION to BLOG posted at 14h10 CAT – 14 January 2012:

WAR has formally written to The Hon. Edna Molewa, MP, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, ahead of her rather hurriedly-convened media briefing in Pretoria tomorrow (Sunday 15 Jan) centred around the rhino poaching crisis.

Our letter is self-explanatory and was sent electronically earlier via her head of departmental communications.

Herewith the link to the PDF file: 


Brian Sandberg

Durban. South Africa. 

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