The point of counter-insurgency is to restore some parity to create enough ‘breathing space’ to allow a political settlement: ‘the political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose (‘On War’, Carl von Clausewitz, Chapter One, Section 24).
The appointment of General Johan Jooste as anti-poaching supremo in South Africa’s national parks (SANParks) suggests that the government is now articulating a ‘political settlement’ to the rhino poaching problem.
This is a sophisticated response within counter-insurgency methodology that recognises when the demands for men and money become terminal quick-sands like the United States in Vietnam: Jooste’s long history in the Apartheid Wars suggests that he would not only recognise the trap but also how to migrate the counter-force strategy into a political deal.
The other area where Jooste’s appointment represented a shrewd political move by the SANParks chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, was by choosing someone who not only had been at the upper echelons of the South African security ‘establishment’ but who also was White.
In a country with such acute politico-racial sensitivity Jooste’s social and combat background was both a forceful signal and response to growing accusations of SANParks’ ineptitude over rhino poaching being levelled by the largely White-dominated conservation lobby, both at home and abroad; some were calling for counter-insurgency tactics such as ‘shoot to kill’, ‘stop and search’, drones and other technology to halt poachers – all ‘sound-bites’ from the Apartheid Wars and dark memories.
Furthermore, it was the overwhelmingly White farm lobby that felt their highly lucrative private rhino trophy-hunting industry was threatened by the insecurity: also under threat is an expanding and equally lucrative captive rhino breeding programme, headed by John Hume’s 800-head rhino ‘farm’.
These are the people with their wallets on the line, rightly or wrongly depending on one’s conservation outlook, and a key element to the political settlement: at the recent CITES meeting in Bangkok the SA Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa generated conservationist ire at a reception, its lavishness designed to underline its seriousness, which suggested that rhino horn sales could be legalised.
Though a decision was deferred (not ruled out) until the next CITES meeting in 2016 conveniently in Durban, there will be plenty of time for traction: the likes of John Hume are already stock-piling rhino horn in anticipation of legal international horn sales.
Meanwhile the government can concentrate on getting a greater grip on the poaching problem within the national parks, especially in the Kruger where there is so much investment in tourism that is undermined by the heavily penetrated border with Mozambique.
Bearing in mind Mozambicans not only poach but also stay illegally in South Africa, one suggested response is to fence the border, which hardly sends a message of fraternal neighbourliness; however if it was couched as saving natural heritage of southern Africa (especially rhinos) any qualms might be eased and all part of the anti rhino-poaching political settlement. Jasper Humphreys.