Lowvelder (SA)

Under Siege – Part 1: KNP under threat from Moz crime syndicates

MBOMBELA – As a result of this lawlessness on its doorstep, the KNP is increasingly coming under threat from rhino poachers invading from the Mozambican side. Some of these poachers, arrested on the South African side, simply jump bail and return to the criminal syndicates in the border villages.

According to a Lowvelder investigation, the cross-border Transnational Park that includes KNP and the Greater Lebombo Conservancy are under siege from the crime syndicates who barter rhino horn for heroin and other contraband smuggled from the Sàbiè/Moamba districts into South Africa.

The same smuggling routes are also used for human trafficking and human body parts, intelligence sources told Lowvelder.

“The only thing that stands between these gangs and total anarchy are the anti-poaching units,” Sandy McDonald, second-generation owner of the Sàbiè Game Park (SGP) in Mozambique, told the paper. But now, the anti-poaching units are more severely attacked to neutralise that final buffer between law and order and total anarchy in the region. The park forms part of the greater Transnational Park.

“It doesn’t really help much if anti-poaching in KNP and the Greater Lebombo Conservancy is jacked up, but we have an ungovernable enclave on its eastern border from where everything is planned and executed,” he added.

When asked if he thinks that the KNP is also under siege by the invading gangs, McDonald said, “I believe it’s a multi-pronged siege of Kruger, but certainly the Mozambican threat is one of the most prominent.”

“On the ground at SGP we have the recipe to ensure that the only rhino alive in Mozambique can be protected and breed, but we can’t go up against an ungovernable area or syndicates that operate with impunity,” he said.

He added that it is clear that the level-two and -three criminal syndicate leaders are from the local populace and well known to all, including the law-enforcement agencies, but, “there are far more powerful forces at play in the area and one can begin to speculate how this all links up”.

But this problem is not one of poaching of rhino and elephant only, but part of a far bigger issue, and that is that the state has essentially lost control of the area where criminal syndicates rule supreme.

McDonald believes that pressure should be put on doing tax audits of the known criminal-syndicate bosses in the area to identify the real culprit who pulls the strings.

The area has been traditionally a Renamo stronghold and throughout the civil war and afterwards remained so, but was never this aggressive toward the conservation areas and authorities. According to a well-placed source, the situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the trading of rhino horn and ivory is funding wide-scale corruption and fuelling a regime of terror that affects not only the wildlife custodians in the Transfrontier Conservation Area, but controls the once-friendly communities both through fear and money.

“SANParks or KNP has a working relationship with both SGP and the SAPS when it comes to sharing information around security and the sharing of information on anti-poaching activities. KNP will not allow criminals to use it as a conduit,” said Ike Phaahla of SANParks. “We have patrols throughout the park and security at our gates to monitor and report any activities that might be criminal.”

“The situation of criminality in the area is obviously of concern to SANParks, but we are not a law-enforcement agency and we are limited in what we can do to investigate beyond the KNP borders, hence our suggestion that you get more information from SGP and the SAPS. We will, however, investigate the allegations,” Phaahla added.

Part 2: Rhinoceros butchered while president preaches conservation

Part 3: Where does the blood money trail end?

De Wet Potgieter