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BOOK EXTRACT

‘Predator Politics: Mabuza, Fred Daniel and the Great Land Scam’, the new book from Rehana Rossouw

Jacana Media / composite The Reading List

In her new book, 'Predator Politics', award-winning author and journalist Rehana Rossouw examines the troubled relationship between eco-tourism businessperson and corruption whistleblower Fred Daniel and Deputy President DD Mabuza, and drills down into the corruption pervading the Mpumalanga Provincial Government.

Having stolen the aspirations of millions of people, Jacob Zuma enabled state pillage estimated to be in the region of R1.5 trillion. Pliant politicians, hangers-on, connected families and assorted others were rewarded with high office, tenders and parastatals.

Fred Daniel, one citizen among many who have been targeted by predator politicians, stood up against this plague of corruption. The retaliation he faced after attempts by allegedly corrupt politicians to grab his nature reserve in Mpumalanga included vandalism, arson, smears and death threats.

His nemesis is Deputy President David Dabede Mabuza, who presided over several departments in the province before he ascended to the position of second most powerful politician in the country.

Fred bought 89 farms, degraded by decades of asbestos mining and poor agricultural practices, and built his dream, the Nkomazi Wilderness Reserve. With commitment and hard work, he healed the land by clearing it and rehabilitating its ecosystems and habitats.

The North Gauteng High Court is hearing his damages claim against Mabuza, government departments and officials amounting to more than R1 billion. It stems from Fred’s exposure of fraudulent land scams allegedly orchestrated by Mabuza, where the poor were cheated out of a future.

At great personal cost, Fred and his family stood up to corruption. They endured the loss of a livelihood and home. They live in fear because of the retaliation whistleblowers face. Fred will not back down. For him, failure is not an option.

***

The extract

Corruption and fraud pervaded the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency before, during and after DD Mabuza’s short tenure of just over a year as MEC for agriculture and land affairs, when he had oversight of its work and budget. The agency was formed in 2006 after its forerunner, the Mpumalanga Parks Board, collapsed under the weight of political corruption.

As the owner of a private game reserve, Fred was required by law to cooperate with the agency. It had the authority to grant the crucial authorisations and permits for which he had applied to stock Nkomazi with animals. Without them, he could not grow and secure the value of his assets.

After he signed the deal with Kerzner International in 2003 to build a One&Only resort on his land – an investment that would secure Nkomazi Wilderness and the Cradle of Life for future generations – Fred redoubled his attempts to secure permits from the parks board for all the Big Five animals.

By 2005, Nkomazi had buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros, but Fred was still waiting for permits to keep lion and elephant to complete the Big Five. He also applied for permits for large predators like wild dogs and cheetah. As lion and elephants were available from Sabi Sabi, he asked the parks board to stamp his fence specification as compliant for the Big Five, “to commit them and close the gap so they could not change the goalposts again. The fence specification was approved and stamped, but written in bold letters was a caveat that there was a ban on the introduction of lion.”

Ignoring the fact that their core mandate of biodiversity protection and tourism development extends to private reserves, officials of the parks agency sparked a conflict with private landowners that has not been resolved. Fred discovered in 2003 that officials, charged with the care of wildlife on state-owned and private reserves, were issuing permits to hunt valuable animals. A male and a female hippo came up the Komati River in 2000 and settled on Nkomazi, where they grazed on the lush new grasses, helping to preserve the riverbank ecology. Despite issuing an adequate enclosure certificate to protect Nkomazi’s animals, the parks board issued a permit to Fred’s neighbour to hunt one of the hippos. He sold the meat and kept the head for a trophy.

Attorney Richard Spoor wrote to the parks board to express Fred’s anger. “It is incomprehensible that you issued a permit to shoot the hippo. Please confirm that in the future no such permit will be issued until interested or affected neighbours are consulted and alternatives to killing the animals are considered.”

There was no answer to his letter.

Fred sums up the death of his valuable animal in a clipped tone: “Corruption leads to environmental degradation.” The chronicle of harassment waged by the parks agency against Fred is a long one. In August 2006, its officials threw a spanner into his plans when they refused to approve an application from Grand Valley Estates to be appointed as the management authority of the Nkomazi Wilderness in terms of the Protected Areas Act. Approval of the application would provide additional tools to protect the nature reserve.

In 2007 the agency launched another attack. It obtained a search warrant for the Cradle of Life animal rehabilitation centre executed on 5 November. After attaching the animals, the agency laid 21 criminal charges against Fred for, among other things, keeping game without a licence, receiving animals unlawfully and unnecessarily disturbing animals.

Spoor sent a letter to Nelspruit Regional Court prosecutor Charles Lloyd, citing the “unrelenting obstructionism” and complete lack of support for Nkomazi by the parks agency’s manager of wildlife protection services, Jan Muller. The official had made it clear “that there will be no accommodation on the release of Nkomazi’s animals” and no permit for keeping large predators. Spoor asked for “at least some assurance … of good faith” in approving Nkomazi’s management status; considering its permit applications on their merits and authorising the release of its animals. By doing so, it would “go a long way to facilitating a plea, restoring good relations and allowing us to move forward together.” There was no response from Lloyd.

After they had attached the animals from the Cradle of Life, the parks agency could not find a suitable facility that was prepared or able to take them. Dr Ndayeni Ndamase, district deputy director of animal health, was asked by the agency to conduct an inspection of the animals. He said in his report that they were in good condition and recommended that they should not be removed as it would create unnecessary stress.

Lloyd wrote to Fred asking him to undertake to keep the animals pending the outcome of the criminal prosecution. He asked that none of the animals be removed from their enclosures, that they be fed and watered, that access to the rehabilitation facility be given to parks agency officials and nominated veterinarians, and that Nkomazi bear all associated costs. Spoor sent a letter committing Fred to all these requirements.

The prosecutor said he had instructions from the parks agency to settle the case. Fred should plead guilty, pay a R500,000 fine and undertake not to apply for wildlife permits for five years. If he did not plead guilty, further charges would be added to the charge sheet. The Mpumalanga Nature Conservation Act allows prosecutors to ask a court to declare a convicted person unfit to obtain permits to keep animals for up to five years. A criminal conviction could have had far-reaching consequences for Fred’s management authority status. He refused to plead guilty to trumped-up charges.

In March 2008, Fred received an email from Dr Koos de Wet at the parks agency, who had planned to conduct veld assessments on Nkomazi for the introduction of elephant and lion. He wrote that his superior, Charles Ndabeni, on instructions from Jan Muller, the manager of wildlife protection services, had “prohibited” any contact with Fred. De Wet therefore cancelled his site visit.

In an attempt to break the deadlock with the officials stonewalling his project, Fred commissioned an expert to confirm his belief that the conservation agency had been derailed by corruption. “The Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency has been known to be inefficient at the best of times,” Dick Wensing observed drily in his report. Wensing had been a consultant for the agency and understood the terrain.

He praised Fred for his nine years of careful restoration of Nkomazi, a “role model of an ecological, sustainable enterprise. Behind this transformation is one man’s dedicated commitment and management. For an operation with a current investment of almost R200 million and growing in excess of R1 billion within the next several years, it could be expected that the provincial government would acknowledge Nkomazi as a role player in the regional economy in terms of wealth generation, job creation, social upliftment, poverty alleviation, foreign exchange earnings and biodiversity conservation. However, little to no support was provided either financially, operationally or by streamlining bureaucratic procedures for the reserve’s establishment and making these procedures less obstructive, hostile and untrustworthy.”

Merely with the flourish of a signature on a form, an official at the agency could help transform Nkomazi Wilderness into a 7-star reserve by allowing it to host elephant, lion and cheetah. Permits were granted for rhinoceros and buffalo, but the agency would not budge on providing paperwork for the rest of the Big Five animals – the major tourist drawcard. Fred had applied for permits to establish the game reserve; to keep the animals in holding facilities; to care for orphaned, injured and sick animals, and to erect multi-functional bomas.

Wensing posed the problem: “Why is there an acrimonious relationship between the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and Nkomazi Wilderness management and is this happening to other private organisations?” He investigated and reported: “Nkomazi Wilderness has to deal with … a civil servant organisation in total chaos, highly politicised and unionised, with no ambition to go full-out to support and promote private initiatives because there is no direct benefit for themselves.

“By making matters personal and with a racial undertone, it is easier to delay and frustrate processes on the basis of unwarranted technicalities, simply because they can.”

Wensing reported that other tourism organisations and businesses in Mpumalanga shared similar experiences. The agency’s focus had shifted from issuing permits to settling land claims, while ignoring “to a large extent their duty to verify claims”, Wensing wrote. It had 32 reserves under its jurisdiction, with claims on most of them. “Soon, thousands of hectares of land under their control will be handed to communities without any regard to nature conservation or biodiversity protection.”

Nkomazi should have been a flagship tourism project in Mpumalanga, Wensing believed. It could have “set an example of what can be achieved by good cooperation between a private organisation with driven management and a statutory body that encourages and supports the project because they understand how it benefits the local community, the province and the country. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.” DM/ ML

Rehana Rossouw ’s debut novel What Will People Say? was shortlisted for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for literature and won a 2017 Humanities and Social Sciences Award. Her second novel, New Times, was released in 2017, and was longlisted for the 2018 Sunday Times Literary Awards. This is her first foray into non-fiction. Predator Politics: Mabuza, Fred Daniel and the Great Land Scam is published by Jacana Media (R290).
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  • Phew, the corruption and racism in this country is just terrifying and in so many ways, exhausting. Thank God for those who have the energy and determination to stand up against it. As a country we can only hope there are more of these people than there are of them.

  • Another rent-seeking attempt ‘a civil servant organisation in total chaos, highly politicised and unionised, with no ambition to go full-out to support and promote private initiatives because there is no direct benefit for themselves.’ our (un)civil service is in this for themselves. Especially at the higher and middle management levels where they are already well rewarded!
    This is where I agree with the Unions who support the people who do the work that we all rely on. as long as they continue to vote a sheep this will continue, and then we have corruption and nepotism in the unions!
    It is time for the ‘good men’ to stand up and be counted.