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‘Landscape of fear’

The Kruger National Park’s (KNP) greatest threat is not poaching, but internal corruption.

This is according to a research paper called, The landscape of Fear, Crime, Corruption and Murder in greater Kruger, compiled by Julian Rademeyer for Enact and funded by the European Union. “For more than a decade, KNP has faced a relentless onslaught of rhino poaching. But today its greatest threat is internal corruption, itself a symptom of a breakdown in trust, staff cohesion, and professionalism within the park.

Recent staff arrests following lengthy financial investigations and a renewed commitment to combat corruption are bearing fruit but will require political support, clear law enforcement strategies to address organised crime around the park, and a long-term investment.” Rademeyer points out that between 2011 and 2020, KNP’S white rhino population fell 75%, from approximately 10 621 animals to 2 607.

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He says crime and corruption in the KNP should not be viewed in isolation without taking the impact of organised crime, such as kidnappings, cash-in-transit heists, ATM bombings, illegal mining, extortion, and corruption, into account. According to him, there are renewed efforts from KNP to combat corruption in the park. He says during his research he was met with a “refreshing openness about the extent of the problem and a desire to address it”.

The report states that “as many as 40% of the KNP’s law enforcement staff, Sanparks officials speculate it may even be as high as 70% in some areas, are believed to be aiding poaching networks or involved in corrupt or criminal activities in some way including high levels of fuel theft. “Most of KNP’s staff live in villages and towns around the park. They are particularly vulnerable to the poaching syndicates and criminal gangs that live alongside them,” the report reads.

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“The western boundary from Hoedspruit to Acornhoek, Bushbuckridge, Hazyview, White River, and Mbombela, heading 100km east past Barberton, through Kanyamazane and Matsulu to Komatipoort is a landscape of fear. Illicit markets abound and violence and murder
are all too common. The violent organised crime came to a head with the assassinations of Hawks investigator, Lt Col Leroy Bruwer and Timbavati head ranger Anton Mzimba in 2022.” Mzimba, who had a reputation for resolute incorruptibility, was shot dead outside his home in Edinburgh Trust near Bushbuckridge after receiving several death threats.

His wife was severely wounded in the attack but survived. Despite clear leads on suspects, an international outcry, and calls from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for his killers to be brought to book, police appear to have made little, if any, progress,” Rademeyer says in the report. KNP’s head ranger, Cathy Dreyer, reiterates that financial difficulties, particularly among staff supporting large extended families in often marginalised communities where few have steady work, make staff especially vulnerable to recruitment by crime networks. “

Sanparks is currently implementing a benchmarking programme to determine how salaries can be improved. We are trying to benchmark what, for example, a sergeant, a corporal, a lance corporal and so on should be paid, to develop an incentive and a reward model,” says Dreyer.

 

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