Deputy Minister Ms Barbara Thomson’s speech on World Rhino Day, Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga

22 September 2014


Programme director;
The Acting Chief Executive of SANParks, Mr Abe Sibiya,
The MEC for Agriculture, Rural Development The chairman of People and Parks, Mr Lourence Mogakane
Mpumalanga  Commissioner of Detectives, Brigadier TC Ntuli,
The Mayor of Bushbuckridge, Councillor Renias Khumalo,
Representatives of our Traditional Leadership,
Government and SANParks officials,
Members of the media and
Most importantly, members of the local community,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bushbuckridge like many other areas is an economically depressed area with high levels of poverty and unemployment, particularly among youth. According to Census 2011, more than half of the area’s economically active population is unemployed with youth constituting 64% of the unemployed.  Of those that are fortunate enough to have a job approximately 80% earns an annual income of R38 000 or less.

The Mayor has given me the assurance that the Municipality has a clear vision of how it plans to address these socio-economic challenges. This vision is aligned to the national priorities of our ANC-led Government, which are:

  • The creation of the decent work and sustainable livelihoods
  • Education
  • Health
  • Rural development, food security and land reform
  • The fight against crime and corruption

In meeting the key challenges facing the community, the municipality is committed to build its local economy to create more decent work and sustainable livelihoods; improve access to public services and broaden access to them on the basis of more effective, accountable and clean local government.

The Municipality also recognises the contribution and significant role played by the natural environment in the provision of sustainable services to its community. It views as imperative the need to protect and enhance the value of the natural environment for social and economic development including our Rhino species, which are important contributors to our ecosystem.

Your Worship, our presence here today in your beautiful municipality to host World Rhino Day, is testimony to your commitment as a municipality to play your part in conserving one of our most threatened natural resources, our Rhino. We are also heartened by the warm reception we received from your officials and the enthusiasm displayed by everybody involved in the hosting of this important event.

World Rhino Day was launched by the World Wildlife Fund-South Africa in 2010 to celebrate the 5 different species of Rhino. The Day has since grown to become a global event to draw attention to the impact of poaching on the continued survival of the Rhino species.

Programme Director, our white and black rhino populations are threatened because of poaching.  Our country’s proud conservation record, established more than 50 years ago when we brought the white rhino back from the brink of extinction, is being threatened.

It is because of South Africa’s excellent conservation record that we now have more than 21 000 rhino in national and provincial game reserves, and on private land.  This is 80 percent of the world’s rhino population.

As a community living adjacent to the Kruger National Park, a world-renowned tourist attraction, you must be aware that the Kruger National Park bears the brunt of rhino poaching in South Africa.   This is not just because the Park is home to the largest number of rhino in South Africa, but also because communities affected by high levels of poverty have become the targets of unscrupulous crime syndicates.

Communities such as yours may not experience poaching through the discovery of a mutilated or dehorned rhino on your land, but may experience poaching through exploitation.   By exploitation I am referring to those crime bosses that come into communities and seek out young people who believe they have no future or older members of the community who have fallen on hard times, and offer them large amounts of money to go and kill a rhino and dehorn it so that they (the crime syndicate leaders) can earn millions of dollars selling it to consumers in far off places.

Why, do you ask, should we protect the rhino when you have other needs such as education, jobs, health and municipal services, housing and roads – to name a few – to worry about on a daily basis.

The answer is simple.

Rhino are important contributors to the ecosystem. Rhino are an important part of our African heritage. They are an important part of our natural heritage.  These engineers of the environment open grazing for many other species, and they are important eco-tourism contributors.  By killing the rhino the economy is harmed. Poaching is also security threat to South Africa because these poachers belong to syndicates that are also involved in criminal conduct such as drug and human trafficking. They have no respect for our country’s borders and sovereignty and undermines our democratic gains.

 Without the rhino there will be no Big Five – the reason millions of people from all over the world travel to South Africa and many of our neighbouring countries every year.   In other words:  If there is no Big Five, there is no tourism.

Without tourism, there will be no direct jobs in the tourism industry for communities living adjacent to conservation areas, or indirect jobs in industries and sectors that support the tourism business. 

Without jobs, there will be increased poverty, increased crime, and less upliftment of our communities.  The government’s aim is to create a better life for all.  Without the rhino, that will not be possible. In all, the South African economy will suffer.

At the root of the escalation in rhino poaching is the myth that rhino horn contains curative properties. This is a myth that holds sway especially among people in Asian countries such as Vietnam. World Rhino Day highlights efforts to debunk the myths and diminish the demand for rhino horn from those countries.

Contrary to widespread beliefs, the rhino horn has no proven medicinal or aphrodisiac (sexual stimulant) qualities. The horns consist of clumped hair or keratin, the same type of protein that makes up human hair and fingernails. It is therefore heart-breaking to witness the decimation of our rhino population in the name of false medical beliefs.

Another reason why it is important to protect our rhino is because the rhino is part of our heritage as a nation. Poaching threatens this heritage.

As we celebrate National Heritage Month it is important that we take a firm stand against this threats to our nation’s heritage. We have fought a long and bitter struggle for freedom. This struggle was not only for political freedom, but also freedom to enjoy our natural beauty and environment, which is now bring threatened by shortsighted and ecologically destructive forces such as poachers.

To the youth, the young people who believe they have no future other than crime, or the poaching of our wildlife, I would like to extend a word of encouragement: The University of Mpumalanga has been established in Mbombela to improve the academic and economic ambitions of the people of this province.

Make use of this institution’s commitment to developing young people such as yourselves so that you can plough back that knowledge into your communities, and thus contribute to uplifting our people.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as you may have noticed today, the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANParks have adopted a new slogan, a new war cry, against rhino poaching.  Not on my watch is a phrase first coined by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, during 2013.

We have adapted it so that it can become a clarion call for all South Africans who should stand up and shout Not on our Watch!

Not on our Watch should spur all of us on to report rhino crimes.  In fact, we should all become whistleblowers about wildlife crime in general.  Wildlife crime now ranks among drug trafficking, arms smuggling and human trafficking as the most lucrative international crimes.  Our wildlife is being decimated to feed the greed of others.  Our rhino are being killed and dehorned to satisfy heartless criminals.  It is time for all of us to stand up and shout:  Not on our watch!

Members of the community, Ladies and Gentlemen,

By blowing the whistle on rhino poaching and wildlife crime you are not only contributing towards saving a species for future generations – our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – to enjoy and benefit from, you are also contributing to a safer society.

There are numerous rewards available for communities and individuals who report criminals who are arrest and successfully convicted.

The Limpopo Police, for example, are offering a R500 000 reward to anyone whose information leads to the arrest and successful conviction of rhino poachers.

In 2012, SANParks promised a reward of up to R1 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of rhino poachers.

I appeal to all you present here today, to become the eyes and ears of the police – to report rhino and wildlife crime, and to state clearly:  Not on our Watch!

I thank you