In February, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa put forward the proposal that the current moratorium on the sale of rhino horn be lifted. She also proposed that internal trade in rhino horn be permitted.
I agree with the principle of the argument. In fact, a couple of years ago, I spoke to the Minister and proposed that the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn be permitted. I had done a great deal of personal work on the idea and had an extensive plan.
I explained the plan to her. She then asked me to do a presentation to her department and give the staff the details of the plan. I did. They said that they liked my ideas and would come back to me to discuss the way forward. They never did. Months and months of me asking them to honour their promise followed, but all I received were continued promises of a response. A deputy director-general kept talking to me on the phone and saying that he would make sure I receive a response. But he eventually just stopped talking to me, thereby creating a really bad impression, which still lasts with me.
I am not going to explain my plan in detail. I suspect that the Department of Environmental Affairs is using it.
However, let us look at the problem. Elephant and rhino are poached for their ivory and horn. This is theft of South African property worth millions of rands. Imagine if some organised gang was plundering a bank branch every week and taking millions. Would we just run Save the Banks campaigns?
I actually become irritated with people who drive around with Save the Rhino stickers on their cars. I imagine that by far the majority of these people will do nothing else but drive around with the sticker and also have no idea what can be done.
I have mentioned this poaching topic a few times. The black market is not going to go away. We even know that senior officials in certain importing countries are in on the act, so, in many instances, there is no real intent on their part to stop the trade.
So, the options include fighting the poachers – as in a military operation. In other words, kill them. So, if one of them picks up a rifle to shoot at a rhino, he must expect a rhino or elephant antipoaching game guard to shoot back, and this will be not just a warning shot.
The other option is to bypass their market. This means making the trade legal so that they are not the sole source of supply.
I believe that we should do both. My plan has extensive processes in place to control a legal trade. I will not go into it.
South Africa is already a world leader in this field. We very accurately control the illegal trade in diamonds and gold. A legal trade would mean that respectable people could buy the products and show them off in public. In other words, world- famous actresses could wear an ivory necklace to the Oscars. Such people would buy them from South Africa or from a South African channel so that we earn a respectable income. Some of this income could fund the antipoaching units.
When respectable people buy the goods and show them off in public, the amount available to the illegal trade will go down. Also, the profit margin to the crooks would go down.
Currently, the poacher takes the horn and tusk for free and then sell them on for little money. The guys who make the real money are the exporters in places like Mozambique and the distributors in the Far East. If you cut out the middlemen in Mozambique and the Far East, they would not pay the poachers. Yes, there is more to the story than this. I have pages and pages of plans.
A respect to the Minister in the newspapers from the conservation Action Trust was very sympathetic. They just say: “Stop the trade by increasing government funding for protection.” Sorry, but plain wishful thinking does not work. We need a realistic commercial answer that is self-sustaining.