Written by: Sharon van Wyk for The Conservation Action Trust
In April last year South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mozambique covering the thorny issue of rhino poaching. At the time, Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa hailed the memorandum as a game-changer in the battle to save the Kruger National Park’s beleaguered rhino population from attack by heavily armed insurgents from South Africa’s eastern neighbour.
Ten months down the line little appears to have been done to consolidate the memorandum, with an Implementation Agreement yet to be signed.
In an address last week updating the media on progress in combating rhino poaching, Molewa said nothing new on the current state of affairs between South Africa and Mozambique and gave no clear indication of any headway being made in this respect.
With South Africa’s rhino death toll escalating with every passing month, what, precisely, is holding up this critical process? “Consultations and interactions are ongoing between the parties,” says Albi Modise, chief director of communications at the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in Pretoria.
“It must be noted that Mozambique has been undergoing an election, which has undoubtedly taken priority in the last few months,” adds Modise, saying that despite not having signed the Implementation Agreement, information exchange between South African and Mozambique undertaken on issues related to the memorandum is on-going.
A draft implementation plan is being finalised, Modise says, although there is no indication of when it will be signed.
Under the terms of the memorandum, certain undertakings were made by both parties to help reduce the rhino poaching, including re-erection of portions of and better maintenance of the stretch of fence along the eastern border of the Kruger National Park with Mozambique.
But with less than a third of the 355km fence line currently under maintenance, progress in this aspect of the memorandum is also woefully slow.
The memorandum also provides for a protection zone in Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park (LNP) to be created. This is apparently up and running and the newly formed “Zona de VigilânciaEspecial (Intensive Protection Zone, or IPZ)” along the park’s western boundary with the Kruger National Park has its own special field ranger unit, deployed by the LNP, which is already operational.
“Activities of the rangers in the IPZ will focus mainly on addressing the rhino and elephant poaching challenges facing the GLTP,” says Modise.
According to Modise, a joint park management committee will be constituted between the newly formed Greater Limpopo Conservancy and the southern part of the Kruger National Park. However, Chris Galliers, chairperson of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, says that the rate of progress on this point is of great concern.
Another point of concern for Galliers is the role of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in so far as the MoU is concerned, especially the issue of “hot pursuit” of poaching suspects by SAPS officers into Mozambique. “There is a lack of clarity on whether these pursuits are happening and under what terms they are taking place, if indeed they are taking place,” says Galliers.
“We are unsure of exactly what their mandate is, specifically with regards to dealing with follow-up investigations. If there was a high-level agreement at the Presidency level, this could quickly be resolved,” he says, adding that the SAPS’ and SA national defence force’s records in dealing effectively with the rhino poaching situation along the border with Mozambique has been questionable to date.
“I reiterate the fact that the current situation must not be seen as a conservation or wildlife issue,” says Galliers. “It has moved beyond this as it is having huge social implications as well as significant negative economic impacts.”
Modise is adamant that the synchronisation of operational plans between South Africa and Mozambique, as contained within the memorandum, is under way. “Increased joint collaboration efforts on anti-poaching interventions are currently being undertaken at park management level in order to improve co-operation between the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique and the Kruger National Park as part of the GLTP initiative,” says Modise.
In her speech made on the signing of the memorandum in April last year, Molewa highlighted the fact that good progress had been made on the implementation of the draft co-operation agreement which came out of the multinational treaty of the GLTP, signed in 2002.
The question which now has to be asked is that if 12 years in the process is considered good progress on a political level for this treaty, what hope is there for speedy implementation of the SA-Mozambique memorandum, and will South Africa’s rhino population still be here to witness it?
There is no doubt that the clock is ticking for rhino, and unless there is an increased sense of urgency on both sides of the border, any hope of success in the fight to save them will remain mired in a bog of petty bureaucracy driven by an apparent lack of political gumption.