Cape Town – Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs has slammed the donation by the North West Province of wild animals worth over R100-million’s to private white farmers and has demanded that it’s Agriculture MEC, Manketsi Tlhap, personally pay for the repatriation of any animals already relocated.
The Portfolio Committee’s chair, Mohlopi Mapulane, described the transaction as ‘illegal from the beginning’. He ordered the project to be suspended immediately and all those complicit in the transaction be investigated. He said it had been undertaken ‘with obvious disregard for good conservation principles’.
The donation to the South African Rare Game Breeders Association (SARGBA) came to light in 2015 following an expose by Carte Blanche and allegations that the animals were being given to ‘persons or friends alleged to be politically connected.’
This alerted parliament’s Environmental Portfolio Committee, which requested a report and Tlhape’s appearance. She was asked to answer:
• The circumstances under which the donations were made;
• The policy used and the date the policy was adopted;
• Whether the department had donated similar high-value species in the past and who were the recipients;
• The details of the species available in the various parks before and after the donation;
• Whether there was any impact on the viability and the breeding potential of the remaining species;
• The capacity, human resources and land of the individuals and/or company that received the animals; and
• Details of the individuals who constitute SARGBA.
Despite being given ample notice, Tlhape simply failed to turn up, offering no apology and causing the committee ‘shock and dismay’ at her violation of Parliamentary protocol.
According to the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee at the time, Philemon Mapulane, the Committee had received no correspondence from the NW Department or even an apology. He said MEC Tlhape had been invited in writing two weeks perviously but no reply was received.
“The Committee views this non-attendance as a slap in the face on the oversight role of Parliament,”he said.
“Accountability by elected public representatives and public officials is not a luxurious option but an imperative in a constitutional democracy such as ours.’ He pointed out that disregarding a parliamentary summons to appear and account was an offence under South African law.
It had not been a good idea to annoy the Portfolio Committee. It invoked Section 56 of the Constitution requiring Tlhape to present herself forthwith and explain the transaction. She complied in November last year.
This week the committee, after deliberation, accepted her apology for her no-show, but not her explanation of the game transfer. It’s finely detailed report indicates a litany of evasions, poor conservation practices, questionable transactions and Tlhape as the deal’s driving force.
The transaction involved the transfer from state parks of 130 buffalos, 50 sable antelope, 50 white rhinos and 15 nyalas to the farm of SARGBA, a private association comprising M and H de Kok, A Boshoff and H du Toit – who own 50% – and a collection of BEEE beneficiaries who own the other 50%. The Committee requested details about the expertise of the BEEE partners and whether they were to be given training in game management.
The transfers were being done from the Pilanesberg and Borakalalo national parks as well as the Mafeking, Botsalano, Kgaswane and Molemane Eye nature reserves and the donation was highly skewed towards female animals. This provoked the Committee to suggest that this had left the populations in the state reserves unviable, with males usable for only hunting or tourist viewing. It was also revealed that 60 animals had died in the relocation process.
The Portfolio Committee concluded that the entire project appeared to have been hurried ‘for reasons unknown to the Committee’, was illegal – having been undertaken under a donation policy that had not been ratified in law – and disregarded conservation principles. It held Tlhape personally responsible and called for the reversal of the entire project. It demanded the cost or repatriation from her personally.