On 13 November, Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera released a video documentary – The Poacher’s Pipeline – with alleged links between Minister of State Security David Mahlobo and Mpumalanga-based rhino horn smuggler, Guan Jiang Guang. This has led to a furor within the South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters), South Africa’s largest conservation association, which has over 40 000 members.
While undercover, the Al Jazeera team recorded Guang, who is also a restaurant and massage-parlour owner, boasting about his alleged association with Mahlobo, whose department’s duties include monitoring organised crime. The minister has, however, denied any association with the Guang, saying in a statement that the allegations were “reckless and mischievous”.
“They are basically linking the fact that I used to visit a spa in Mpumalanga solely for the services that they render, to the illegal poaching of rhino horns by it’s owner – which I have also just been made aware of through the aired broadcast,” said the Minister. “I am not a friend of the guy, nor have I ever been to his home or have received any of his employees into my home. Finally, my wife has no business with the man or his employees.”
In recent years, the conservation community, government, non-profit organisations and ordinary South Africans have rallied together, investing millions through donor funding and intensified efforts to protect the dwindling rhino population. Rhino horn is currently worth between R200 000 and R300 000 per kilogram. A sudden boom in illegal poaching was seen in 2008, and in 2014, 293 rhinos were killed in the Kruger National Park. The Department of Environmental Affairs, investigating the viability of legalising rhino poaching in an attempt to curb the scourge, published a report that year.
In light of the allegations however, CEO of SA Hunters, Fred Camphor has stated: “We call for an urgent investigation into allegations that Minister Mahlobo and other government officials are allegedly associated with individuals involved in international wildlife trafficking, bribery and corruption. Ideally, the investigation should be led by an independent judicial commissioner who cannot be influenced politically or financially by anyone who is under suspicion of being involved in or associated with individuals allegedly linked to rhino poaching syndicates.”
Among the remedial actions the minister seeks to take in response to the documentary, is a request to the Mpumalanga Police Commissioner to investigate all the allegations made against him, that the Commissioner take action against Guan for illegal rhino poaching and look into claims that Guan employs illegal immigrants. The minister is also engaging a legal team to investigate possible defamation action against Al Jazeera, which he has slammed for reporting on the news in “the sensation- seeking, unprofessional and reckless manner”.