The R100m game gift: Mystery solved?
A memorandum has surfaced that seems to shed light on the huge 2016 donation of wildlife to a white-owned company
A memorandum from 2016 has emerged and sheds the light on a controversial “transformation-driven” R100m game donation from the North West Parks Board to a game-breeding company owned by white Afrikaners.
The Times first reported on the strange donation in June 2017, when it emerged that a white Afrikaner game-breeding family appeared to have been the recipients of a multimillion-rand gift in the form of buffalo and sable antelope from the North West government as part of its “transformation agenda”.
The SA Rare Game Breeders Association (SARGBH), a private company whose directors were Mike and Henry de Kock at the time of the report, asked the department for wildlife worth about R100m in 2014. They went as far as asking for the best and strongest males for breeding.
The game donation to the SARGBH became a subject of controversy and attracted the attention of parliament’s portfolio committee on environmental affairs. The committee released a report in April this year recommending the reversal of the game donation because it was “not properly done”.
Now Times Select has seen a memo that finally appears to explain the mysterious donation.
Written by a parks board member, it has emerged that the North West Parks Board seems to have been embroiled in court action with a game farmer living next to Madikwe Game Reserve. This farmer, who did not want to be named, took the parks board to court, saying his game was being infected with tuberculosis (TB) that came from Madikwe.
It appears the parks board did not have the money to finance an operation preventing the further spread of TB – but the SARGBH did.
An agreement appears to have been made in which the SARGBH were to receive the wildlife worth R100m in exchange for financing a R33m operation to prevent the further spread of TB.
The memo drafted by a parks board member talks about the “costs of this operation”, in an apparent reference to the settlement with Madikwe Game Reserve’s neighbouring game farmer who was suing the parks board over the spread of tuberculosis.
Addressed to the then board chairperson and current North West Premier Professor Job Mokgoro, the memo reads: “Since the board does not have R33 million to cover the costs of this operation, the conservation committee endorsed the decision of North West Provincial Exco to work with SARGBH in order to finance the operation in return for their expected clean Madikwe Buffalo donation.”
The operation relates to a settlement agreement after one of the farmers whose game farm, neighbouring Madikwe Game Reserve, went to court to force the parks board to prevent the spread of TB, which had already affected buffalo in the state-owned park, from spreading into nearby farms.
“A settlement agreement was reached in which the park board was obliged to erect adequate biosecurity buffer zones along its boundaries with various neighbours and undertook testing and culling of buffalos inside Madikwe game reserve,” a farmer in the area said.
According to the memo that was e-mailed on January 13 2016, the SARGBH was to gain more through the game donation. “Given this additional help, SARGBH is also to benefit beyond the initial number of buffalo allocated although the actual number was not set. As a result, what was understood to be a donation of high-value game or wildlife to SARGBH now appears to be a partnership for mutual assistance and benefit,” the e-mail reads.
The memo says a settlement had been reached with the farmer but that were tight deadlines had to be met, which included a "double fence project" to be concluded by June 30, 2106, and the appointment of a veterinarian, temporary bomas, helicopter services and capture teams by March 30, 2016.
Referring to the fence project, the memo says: "This is a very tall project indeed...
"The offer from SARGBH (as mentioned in the COO report dated 11 December 2015) to assist in this regard should therefore receive serious consideration."
It mentions that SARGBH was "to benefit beyond the initial number of buffalo allocated".
This links to a report by the portfolio committee finding that SARGBH received a higher number of species, allegedly through agricultural MEC Manketsi Tlhape’s influence.
But provincial department of agriculture spokesperson Emelda Setlhako denied this. “The department is not aware of any official who was pressured by the MEC in terms of the game donation. The number of game animals donated to SARGBH is less than the total number of animals in their business plan and as such, there is no way that the number of animals could have been increased by anyone including the MEC,” Setlhako said.
This is how the numbers have shifted in the game donation process:
• SARGBH had requested a donation of 210 buffalo, 210 sables, 210 roan antelopes and 630 nyalas.
• Parks board’s chief conservation officer suggested that 50 buffalo, 20 sables and 10 nyalas be donated.
• The portfolio committee found that agriculture MEC Manketsi Tlhape pushed the number up to 130 buffalo, 50 sables, 50 white rhino and 15 nyalas. This was the wildlife that ended up being donated, and it was worth more than R100m.
Parks board spokesperson Dinah Rangaka would not comment on the controversy around the donation. “The SARGBH project matter is sub judice and is being handled by the department of rural, environment, agriculture and development, which is the executive authority in charge North West Parks Board,” Rangaka said.
Neither the department nor parks board would comment on the involvement of SARGBH in the settlement agreement.
The portfolio committee has concluded the “game donation project was not properly done”, and recommended it be reversed, something that is yet to happen.
The department maintained that the game donation was above board. “The game donation was implemented as part of an exco resolution for the North West provincial administration, which was preceded by due diligence/inspection to ensure compliance with the board qualification criteria and ecological studies,” Setlhako said.
Meanwhile, SARGBH said they would not respond. “Please take note that SARGBH (Pty) Ltd is a private company and that we at this stage see no need to discuss our private affairs in the media,” chairperson JJ du Toit wrote in an e-mailed response.
Mokgoro’s spokesperson, Vuyisile Ngesi, also referred queries to the agriculture department.