South Africa’s Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, has been implicated in an investigative documentary into rhino poaching in South Africa. Members of the Chinese President’s delegation also allegedly went on an illegal spending spree in South Africa to buy ivory and rhino horn and smuggled the products back to China, according to revelations to be broadcast by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit. 

Screenshot from the doc
Screenshot from the doc

Filming undercover, the Al Jazeera team recorded a Chinese man, who lives in Pretoria and acted as a tour guide for a large delegation which arrived in December 2015 with President Xi Jinping for a Forum on Co-operation between South Africa and China.

The man names Mahlobo, a senior Minister in the South African Government, who he claims is a close friend and who’s been a guest at his home.   

Mahlobo’s spokesperson denies the claims and told Al Jazeera: “The minister has indicated that he does not have any relationship with the gentleman and he has never been to his house or received any of his services at his house as claimed.”

During the programme (watch below), the Chinese man shows  photo which appears to show him and Mahlobo at his home.

The man also claims members of the Chinese delegation, including the President’s personal bodyguards, insisted he take them to a black-market dealer to buy rhino horn along with chopsticks, stamps and bracelets made from ivory.  These are all banned items under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, of which China is a signatory.   

Summing up his disregard for the international ban, he tells Al Jazeera, “There are many weirdos in South Africa who are obsessed with animal protection.  That’s dangerous and troublesome.”

In a six-month long investigation, the Al Jazeera team also filmed a Chinese businessman, based in South Africa, describing his dealings in rhino horn and how he escapes prosecution.

“Everything in Africa is based on money,” he says. 

He also claims a high level official contact at Beijing airport helps him traffic horn back to China.

The businessman put the Al Jazeera team in contact with his own dealer in China.  In a secretive meeting, the dealer produced a back rhino horn for sale, with an asking price of over US $60,000.

The program also exposes the links between the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa and a Vietnamese-owned game reserve, north west of Pretoria, which is suspected of trafficking rhino horn and tiger bones 

“Some of Vietnam’s top CEO’s, most senior politicians and Government Ministers are buying rhino horn,” says Julian Rademeyer, an author and analyst with the Global Initiative on Transnational Organized Crime.  “This is the ultimate status symbol, something to give as gifts and buy influence.”

Working with the Wildlife Justice Commission, based in The Netherlands, Al Jazeera shows exclusive footage shot secretly in a village near the Vietnamese capitol, Hanoi, which is a hub of wildlife trafficking.  Despite WJC handing a massive dossier of evidence to the Vietnamese Government on over fifty dealers in the village selling horn, ivory, tiger skins and lion bones, no official action has been taken to close down the trade.

About twenty-five thousand rhinos are left in Africa.  Six thousand have been killed in the last decade.  The largest concentration of rhino is in South Africa and the Kruger National Park has become the major killing field, with two or three animals shot every night by local poachers.

But as the Al Jazeera Investigation shows, the poachers are just the bottom end of a criminal chain extending from the kill in Africa to the sale in Asia, with the trade driven by demand for rhino horn from China and Vietnam.

The Al Jazeera program airs in the week that two major international events will highlight how close the rhino is to extinction. 

In The Hague, the Wildlife Justice Commission is holding a public hearing of its evidence before a Panel of Experts (1415 November 2016) to expose some of the criminal networks running the trade in Vietnam.  And Vietnam is hosting the third international conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Hanoi (17-18 November 2016), only twenty miles from the village where the horns of an estimated six hundred dead rhino have ended up for sale.

The Poachers Pipeline: Dealers, diplomats and the illegal horn trade premieres on Al Jazeera on Sunday 13 November 2016 at 1200 GMT / 1400 CAT and repeats on Monday, 14 November 2016 at 2000 GMT / 2200 CAT.

Trailer – Al Jazeera Investigates – The Poacher’s Pipeline

The full documentary: Al Jazeera Investigates – The Poachers Pipeline

Watch the section on David Mahlobo, South Africa’s minister of state security, that starts at 16:15 and ends at 23:32.

UPDATE: South African Minister David Mahlobo Denies Rhino Poaching Connection