Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Noena, a Black Rhino, was shot by poachers and survived. In an attempt to protect her, her owner removed her horn; the bait that attracts black market profiteers. But the stump that was left proved too enticing, and poachers again attacked Noena, this time firing seven shots, some into her head.
Miraculously, Noena has survived again.
The plight of South Africa’s rhino has captured the public imagination as eleven suspected poachers, two of whom are veterinarians and two women, appeared in the docks in Musina this week. It is suspected that they have been involved in several hundred instances of rhino poaching over the years.
Yesterday, as we celebrated International Rhino Day, bail was set for the head of the syndicate at R1 million. Ironically, this is what he would have paid for Noena. That is the cost of a Black Rhino.
The World Wildlife Fund has declared September "Rhino Month" and community organizations, like Eblockwatch, have launched initiatives to detect poachers on our country’s game farms and prevent their heinous acts of cruelty. It is not merely the images of dead and bloodied animals that touch us, but the fact that rhino, like all our fauna, are part of our nation’s heritage.
Tomorrow, as we celebrate Heritage Day, let us consider the wealth of our inheritance, from our cultural diversity to our natural resources, and let us consider as well our responsibility as caretakers of the inheritance of our progeny.
Sir Laurens van der Post once remarked that the African appreciation for the greater value of our collectiveness, what we call ubuntu botho, can be ascribed to the fact that our culture has remained closer to nature than European cultures.
There have been very few instances in South Africa’s history of a political leader also being involved in conservation issues. One example is General Jan Smuts who, as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, set aside the Dongola Game Reserve, a vast area near the Kruger National Park.
Regrettably, it was ruthlessly de-proclaimed when the Nationalist government came into power in 1948.
When I became Chief Minister of KwaZulu in 1976, I established the KwaZulu Bureau of Natural Resources, which became the Department of Nature Conservation. My support for conservation brought hostile criticism from my own people, who complained that I was more concerned about animals than human beings. Nevertheless, I do not regret what I have been able to give my people.
I was also persecuted by the National Party Government which tried to force me to take the great game reserves of Zululand; Hluhluwe/Mfolozi, Ndumo and others, and turn them into agricultural holdings. I said then, and I still maintain, that the game reserves of KwaZulu Natal are our heritage and as such are beyond price.
I reaffirmed these convictions at the Conference of Game Conservation International held in the 1970s in San Antonio, Texas in the United States, where I appeared before an international audience at a very difficult time in our history. I knew then that we were not only caretaking for our own future, but for all the people of the world who could experience in our reserves the breathtaking bounty of nature.
Conservation was a lonely platform in those years, but the few who shared my convictions offered me great support. I think of the late Nick Steele and Khulani Mkhize. Dr Ian Player is another patriot whose commitment to protecting the rhino population cost him a great deal. By the seventies, fewer than 500 White Rhino remained, but our efforts were growing their number in Mfolozi Game Reserve. Some still refer to rhino as the "Mfolozi Cockroach".
Dr Player initiated Operation White Rhino, whereby surplus rhino were captured at Mfolozi Game Reserve and sent to the Kruger National Park and the great zoological gardens throughout the world. It was a tough assignment, not least because the darts that were used occasionally backfired. Today Dr Player, who remains a great friend of mine, has lost vision in one eye due to this dart malfunction. Yet he has no regrets.
Another remarkable man, whose extraordinary tracking skills assisted Operation White Rhino, was Magqubu Ntombela. Magqubu had no education in the formal sense and could not read or write, but his knowledge of the veld, the trees, the birds, the animals and the history of the Zulu people was unlimited. Dr Player unhesitatingly calls Magqubu his Reed teacher in a book entitled "Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul", which recounts their friendship.
The KwaZulu Legislative Assembly in Ulundi considered Magqubu our conservation adviser. He was also welcomed by the Royal Regiment of Wales at Brecon, as well as being a speaker at the First World Wilderness Congress in Johannesburg and the Fourth Congress in Denver, Colorado. For a man with no schooling, this was a triumph of the spirit.
He and Dr Player worked together in the Wilderness Leadership School which Dr Player founded, and of which I am a Trustee. In fact, it has been my privilege over the years to support several conservation foundations and initiatives, not least the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation, the Rhino and Elephant Foundation and the Wildlands Conservation Trust, which incidentally holds its annual "Art for Conservation" dinner next Friday.
I also founded the Tembe Elephant Park on the border of KwaZulu Natal and Mocambique. In doing these things, I believe I am continuing the work of the founder of the Zulu nation, King Shaka kaSenzangakhona, who protected the game and the wildlands long before the white man came. What is today Mfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves were protected areas under King Shaka’s reign. In colonial times, and even to this day, were it not for the Zulu game scouts protecting the game reserves, nothing would have survived the commercial poachers.
In 1998, I travelled to Frankfurt, Germany, to receive the Bruno H. Schubert Stiftung Environmental Award. Yet no matter how great my own achievements in protecting our environment and no matter how committed a few patriots have been in preserving our natural heritage, South Africa is still plagued by the killing of its rhino.
I must point out that the eleven poachers standing trial in Musina are all South Africans. Our own people, destroying our own heritage. Since January this year, 204 rhino have been killed, compared with 122 for the whole of last year. Can we really say we are becoming more civilized?
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe,
Press Secretary to Prince MG Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510.