SA's ban on trade of rhino horn under attack in court

2015-09-22 22:02
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Pretoria - The world's largest white rhino breeder John Hume and fellow rhino breeder Johan Krüger have applied in the High Court in Pretoria to set aside government's moratorium on rhino horn trading.

Legal argument in the application, which will continue on Wednesday, continued until early in the evening on Tuesday.

Hume and Krüger maintain the moratorium, enacted in 2009, was unlawful because Environment Minister Edna Molewa did not give proper notice to members of the public and rhino farmers who were directly and severely affected by the measure.

The moratorium was put in place to back up an international ban on rhino horn trading until regulations on how to deal with rhino had been put in place.

More than six years later, no such regulations were yet in place.

Counsel for Hume, Mike Maritz SC, argued that at the time of the moratorium, Hume was the legal owner of 400kg of rhino horn that was dehorned from his own herd and had made a huge investment in building up a herd.

Because of the moratorium, the rhino horns, that were worth millions of rands, and his investment in rhino had become virtually worthless overnight.

Hume had to spend almost R5m a month to conserve rhino, but could not make a cent out of it. His right to commercially exploit his ownership of rhino was sterilised.

"It had a dramatic, immediate impact on his rights," Maritz said.

'Question mark over the rationality of the ban'

He argued that the minister had not met the statutory requirements when the moratorium was contemplated, because a notice about it was never published in a national newspaper, resulting in the public and other interested parties being unable to make a meaningful contribution to the debate.

He said publication of a notice in the Government Gazette was not good enough, because it was certainly not everyone's bedtime reading material. Limited publication of newspaper articles on the subject in the Cape and KwaZulu-Natal also did not suffice.

It was clear that the minister's intention was an unlimited ban, but what was conveyed to Hume was that it would be a limited ban on trading of about six months.

Maritz argued that the minister should also have given personal notice of the intended moratorium to the 400 registered breeders and owners of rhino in the country, as it affected their rights and they should have been allowed to give input.

Krüger maintained he never knew about the intended trading ban and would have made submissions if he had.

Maritz submitted that the moratorium was "peculiar" as it had always been South Africa's stance that the international ban on rhino horn trade was not in the best interest of rhino preservation.

"Yet, a year before the hosting of the (Rugby) World Cup there's a sudden ban.

"...It puts a serious question mark over the rationality of the ban," he said.

Maritz argued that a dramatic spike in rhino poaching from 2008 onwards was consistent with the ban, which was already mooted in 2007.

David Unterhalter, SC, for the minister, argued that there had been sufficient consultation with interested parties and sufficient notice of the intended ban through newspaper articles.

He said anyone who was interested in seeing what the government was doing with the protection of rhino could have consulted the government gazette, which was "freely available in state libraries".

The minister maintained rhino breeders could make an income from selling the animals, having them hunted or letting the public view the captive animals.

The application continues.

Read more on:    edna molewa  |  pretoria  |  rhino horn  |  conservation

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