Raging bull: Fury over R6.9m TB-ridden buffalo
Businessman sues government for R500m after alleging it knowingly sold him a sick beast
South African big game breeder Jaco Troskie – the man who famously outbid Cyril Ramaphosa on a R20-million buffalo – is suing the government for nearly R500-million after officials allegedly knowingly sold him a TB-infected buffalo on a state auction.
The Northern Cape businessman says the seven-year ordeal has wiped him out financially and destroyed his business’s reputation.Troskie bought the bull, named El Torro, in 2011 for R6.9-million on a state auction in which 50 buffalo were sold off. Over the next three years he bred it with 25 female buffalo. But in 2014 he received a letter from the Northern Cape veterinarian department saying the bull may be infected with TB.
The provincial department of agriculture then put his entire reserve under quarantine for the next three years. During this time El Torro was diagnosed with TB and died. The quarantine was only lifted in 2017 after Troskie and other affected breeders obtained a court order.
Troskie is one of at least three big game breeders suing the state for a total of almost R1-billion after between them they unwittingly bought five TB-infected buffalo at the auction.
He alleges the state vet reports on the condition of the animals were altered to cover up their true health status at the time of the sale.
The government has declined to comment on any of the allegations.
Troskie told Times Select the ordeal had been emotionally devastating and the worst time of his life “not only on a business level, but also an personal level”.“Because of government breaching its own laws and protocols we have had to retrench. That retrenchment has had a direct effect on 36 families. That is directly because of what government has done.”
But more damaging than the loss of money was the cost to his business’s reputation.
“Our herds are clean but people don’t realise or want to believe this. They still believe because of the quarantine our animals can’t be trusted.
“We have spent 10 years building up our business, which until this happened was worth R1-billion. But to get it to that point took time and effort. How do you quantify that, especially the effort that went into making our business what it was?”
Troskie in December issued summons on the national and provincial departments of Environmental Affairs as well as Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture.
He launched legal action after a whistleblower alerted him and the other breeders who had bought buffalo at the auction that a report by the state veterinarian had been altered to cover up the animals’ health status at the time of the auction, which was held at Madikwe Nature Reserve in 2011.
Among the main claims in the court action are that:The buffalo were infected at the time of the sale, despite paperwork declaring them free from disease.
They were listed as coming from Madikwe Nature Reserve, but they had already been bought from Madikwe by a private BEE company “in a suspicious way” and the directors of the company had also resigned soon after the auction, which had netted them millions of rand.
The government took more than three years to alert the breeders that they had bought TB-infected animals.
According to state veterinarian protocols, animals infected with communicable diseases may not be traded or moved out of the area.Madikwe Nature Reserve, which belongs to the North West provincial government, was itself was placed under quarantine in 2012, according to Troskie.
Environmental Affairs spokesman Albie Modise refused to answer questions and said the matter was under investigation.
He referred Times Select to the provincial departments, which failed to respond to questions.
The Forestry, Fisheries and Agriculture Department spokesman, Steve Galane, also did not respond to questions.
Troskie says in his court papers that provincial state vets are responsible for ensuring auctioned buffalo are disease-free. Instead, the state vet had allegedly assigned his responsibilities to an “inexperienced” private vet.
“The flawed testing process and subsequent issue of movement permits constitutes gross negligence and gross violation of duty.”
Troskie told Times Select the government had violated its own protocols.
“In our investigations, we managed to track down a government whistleblower, who alerted us to the fact that the animals’ original TB test reports were altered to show they were clean. That’s fraud.
“Because of government officials’ actions we are where we are today ... on the verge of closing down.”
The whistleblower, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said when concerns of infection were initially raised in December 2014, they had sourced the original test results of the animals.
“It was clear some animals had [tested positive].”
Times Select spoke to two other breeders who bought buffalo at the auction. They confirmed they were also taking legal action over the infection but did not want to comment further or be named.