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A Safari of Fools: UAE autocrats’ atrocious junket to the Eastern Cape


Dr Aslam Dasoo is a veteran healthcare advocate and activist. He is the national convenor of the Progressive Health Forum and chairman of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association. He is a member of the ANC Stalwarts and Veterans, and writes in his personal capacity.

There’s a moment when despondency turns to despair; frustration to outrage – when one’s tolerance for the inevitable disappointments turns to dismay at the consequences. That moment consciously flickered for many these past weeks, as a range of dispiriting events transpired in our national institutions and within our society.

The startling admission that the government does not know how much was paid or received, who paid, what was done and by whom for the upgrading of the Eastern Cape’s Bhisho-Bulembu Airport in advance of the arrival of this remarkable expedition of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) ruling class, doesn’t bear thinking about.

But it is worse to expect anyone to believe that all will be revealed by the Emiratis during an “exit interview”. (The “entry interview” presumably went down splendidly.)

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Exit meeting’ with UAE leader before Eastern Cape transport can shed more light on airport upgrades

Just whose country is this, anyway? 

To answer that, imagine for a moment that the roles were reversed and that a South African billionaire head of state buys a chunk of UAE’s desert, along with an exotic oasis or three, for hedonistic junkets, subsidised by a praise-singing Emirati government. 

Exit interview? Pull the other one. 

When a visiting head of state lands a squadron of private aircraft on an airstrip that’s part of SA’s security apparatus for a frivolous sojourn, the déjà vu is uncomfortably intense. This is despite half the Cabinet breathlessly insisting that the visit is regulated by the high bar of diplomatic procedure by which to receive a royal party, for whatever reason it chooses to travel to these climes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ministerial show of force — ‘We can account for every visitor accompanying the UAE President’ 

This little communication nugget is drawn directly from the “exit interview” manual.

We now have the unedifying spectacle of a great colonial-style safari by over 500 denizens of the Arabian peninsula, arriving in an ostentatious caravan in the Eastern Cape – home of the epic resistance for 100 years against colonial invaders, birthplace of liberation giants, blessed with exceptionally beautiful landscapes and ocean, and one of the poorest regions in Africa –  facilitated, aided and abetted by a provincial polity whose obsequiousness mimics those who would trade dignity for some silver and deform statutory governance to welcome rich bwanas to our shores.

After the insults and shock to our collective psyche of years of staggering profligacy by our governors, made worse by the abject inability to arrest the rot, one might have become inured to just another abuse of power.

But when the UAE caravanserai is coddled in the lap of a government that cannot run a fully functional service in a single department under its remit – but invokes the same defensive, post-factual fiction that followed the Gupta’s Waterkloof misadventure and hurriedly deploying officials from Home Affairs, customs and whatnot in order to invest this boondoggle with a smidgen of legitimacy – the game is up.

The justifiable default suspicion is that this is a corrupt enterprise. The similarity with the Guptas’ machinations is not coincidental, given the fiasco surrounding their non-extradition by the same lot who decamped to the lovely Eastern Cape.

Beneficiaries and victims

The most depressing aspect of this tasteless, colonially inspired adventure is how the true beneficiaries and victims are revealed. 

No fewer than 1,200 wild animals – Africa’s inspiring, enduring but hugely threatened treasures, plundered for 400 years by Europeans and Arabs when they were not enslaving Africans – were corralled into the UAE leader’s private reserve by a hunting industry whose origins are steeped in colonial conquest, together with both its hideous taxidermy infrastructure and “professional” hunters. 

These 1,200 animals are for the shooting pleasure of 200 Emirati royals and assorted members of the Gulf plutocracy (along with a servant cohort of over 300, because that’s how they roll), reminiscent of royal hunts in medieval Europe. 

The junket is reportedly accompanied by a planeload of Russian and Asian “female companions”, housed in sumptuous lodgings in the reserve, who presumably came along to squeal with delight as an antelope, giraffe, elephant or canned lion is inexpertly gunned down in an enclosure by a minor sheikh ridiculously imagining himself in the mould of the big game hunter on the vast veld, but who would wet his pants at the first rustle in the undergrowth. 

(One is reliably informed that the professional hunters are there to discreetly dispatch the still-living beasts from their agony, so as not to diminish the new-found self-esteem of their obscenely wealthy clients.)

This enterprise, along with its armoury of high-powered rifles, tawdry travelling harems and industrial-scale slaughter of wildlife is headlining a global hunting enterprise, appalling in its unreconstructed bloodlust and cruel beyond words. 

All at the fawning facilitation of the Eastern Cape government.

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, is an honourable person. But having capitulated to colleagues for whom such values are mere inconveniences, she signed off on something that no sane government would countenance – an exemption to Kusile power station to allow it to spew lethal amounts of toxic gases in a densely populated rural area. 

They have now also enlisted Creecy’s department to permit an unspeakable atrocity on SA’s wildlife.

Profound tragedy

This is a time of profound tragedy in our country. With each crack of a rifle and the howl or grunt of a sentient beast bewildered by fear, shock and pain before falling stricken to the ground, we write our story of violence and death anew.

And for those in the government who bleat about how this visit will produce significant employment of locals, this is not about generating enduring employment; it’s merely hiring for a short stint. Better than nothing, of course, but no one except the state confuses the two – certainly not those offering their labour.

And to those vehemently claiming with evidence-free certainty that recreational hunting is a boon to the economy, the only positive bank balances are those of the contractors who construct bespoke temporary lodgings for passing potentates and their entourages, various hunting enterprises, local brokers, grifters and political facilitators, from whom the ensuing taxes are a pittance when compared with the priceless treasures being hocked. 

And to those who have, with a scientific sleight of hand, managed to fool a credulous government into believing that hunting is vital to conservation, well, it is easier to argue that fornication is vital to the preservation of virginity.

We are clearly no longer among the companions of Luthuli, Biko and Tambo.

Grown-ups have to run this country, not only for the rather obvious requirements of keeping society connected to reliable power; for protecting people from criminal marauders who fear no law enforcement; or for providing sufficient food to school children and to those ailing in the beds of our public hospitals, but also because only grown-ups have the wisdom and courage to ban recreational hunting of wildlife for the barbaric pastime that it is. 

But none is to be found at the helm. 

More’s the pity, for a people stuck in a stuck state, for a generation bursting with enthusiasm but constrained by a rank refusal to open its way, and for precious biodiversity abandoned to death merchants for promises whose lack of fulfilment is paid for in advance. DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:


  • Cornelia Jacobs Jacobs says:

    The author should possibly list his beefs & check his emotional approach. Then check facts. Some points are valid but are tainted by the subjective & emotional angle. You could have written a really valid piece, but for this….

  • G O says:

    This article ought to be published in all of South Africas Sunday papers this weekend. It is a superb summary of what the ANC has become.

  • ANC must GO says:

    Superbly written. I loved reading this article so much that I read it again and again to appreciate the beautifully written English. Unfortunately he content was sadly accurate.

  • John Strydom says:

    Shocking – if true.
    How about some fact checking?
    I found little of substance: not a photograph, not a hotel bill, nada.

  • Karin Ireton says:

    Thank you for this article. Finally it is said in clear terms. We have made ourselves minions to the whim of others. Was this a reward for ensuring the Guptas would not come back and embarrass current and past politicians. Or do we just as a nation have so little regard for our sovereignty.

  • Annemarie Janse van Rensburg says:

    I cannot agree more! In the meantime children are going hungry, their growth is stunted and they cannot benefit from good education with schools that are falling apart, dangerous pit toilets and careless teachers. And what about the old people, struggling to make ends meet, often having to look after their grandchildren as well. My heart is bleeding for these unfortunate people while the government entertain (and benefit) from rich people – only so that they can have more money for themselves! This is State Capture no 2😡😡😡😡

  • Lynette Denny says:

    Dr Dasoo has written with the anger, shock and incredulity so many South Africans are experiencing at the appalling state of our nation. I had no idea that the UAE people were here to slaughter our wild life. How despicable. Are there any leaders in this country who have even a shred of conscience? Or shame?

  • Stuart Woodhead says:

    Disgusting but typical of what the ANC now stand for.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    The UAE is a hub for dirty money – also grey listed. Need I say more?

  • Trenton Carr says:

    I pity that well thumbed thesaurus.

  • Sue Grant-Marshall says:

    How utterly appalling, and on so many fronts. I agree, this feature should appear across SA so that we all read, and see, just how profligate and without morals our Eastern Cape – maybe our whole – government is.

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