Investigation into staff complaints of racism, torture at Kruger Park

The Kruger Park may be like heaven for visitors, but employees say that working there is like hell. Picture: iStock
The Kruger Park may be like heaven for visitors, but employees say that working there is like hell. Picture: iStock

An investigation has been launched into widespread allegations of racism and arbitrary torture of black staff in the Kruger National Park (KNP).

In March City Press reported on the state of affairs in the park where black employees had been complaining about being assaulted, maimed and internally charged on baseless allegations of rhino poaching by their white superiors.

No white employee, according to the complainants, had been accused of rhino poaching and subjected to the same torture or disciplinary action. They alleged white employees were often let off the hook for serious offences while their black colleagues were often roasted for minor or baseless issues.

SANParks had repeatedly denied that black rangers and other black employees were being targeted. It defended its disciplinary actions, saying they were properly done with every procedure followed.

Last week SANParks’ spokesperson, Isaac Phaahla, confirmed that an investigation had been commissioned but declined to give more details.

Read: Racism and inequality at Kruger Park: It’s like Animal Farm, say black employees

However, City Press can confirm that SANParks has appointed advocate Boyce Mkhize to probe these allegations.

“Yes there is an independent investigation commissioned by SANParks to verify the allegations and your source is correct, there have been interviews with employees,” Phaahla said.

He said he could not comment further because the investigation was an internal matter between employees and the employer.

“It would be improper and prejudicial to comment on this matter. As stated before, these are highly regulated processes which are confidential. The privacy of the parties involved has to be respected,” Phaahla said.

“SANParks is therefore not at liberty to discuss any aspects related to the ongoing process with any third party, including the media. As explained above, SANParks does not aim to compromise this highly regulated process and render it either procedurally or substantially flawed by disclosing any information related to the probe,” he said.

Mkhize declined to comment and referred questions to SANParks.

“We are not at liberty to make any comments to the media regarding the investigation at KNP. Please kindly direct your enquiries to SANParks.”

In March City Press reported about letters that concerned black employees had written to Parliament and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The alleged racism incidents, which employees told City Press about, included:
  •  Norman Lubisi (29), a field ranger, who was strangled and smothered with a refuse bag put over his head when he was coerced to confess to being a rhino poacher in January. The Bushbuckridge Magistrates’ Court dismissed his case but he was suspended from work.
  •  Tommy Mokgakane was assaulted in 2015 and suspended for more than 12 months after being accused of stealing an R1 rifle and two rhino horns. Mokgakane successfully sued the police for R350 000 for unlawful arrest, detention and assault on December 20 2017.
  •  Jabulani Hlavangwani, a general worker, was dismissed for finding a missing pillow while he was busy emptying bins. Hlavangwani was fired after handing it over to management, who accused him of stealing it.
  •  Tshepo Chabane was targeted on suspicion of being a rhino poacher. When his official residence was searched, no rhino horns were found. Chabane was dismissed for theft after a bundle of toilet paper was found in his house.
  •  Gideon Sibuyi was assaulted after he was implicated in rhino poaching last year, but no evidence was found against him.
  •  Eubert Chabane, an employee benefits officer, claims that he was sacked on March 27 2017 for allowing his friend’s family to sleep at his official residence in Skukuza camp. Chabane is fighting his case in the labour court because he claims he did not benefit nor did he defraud SANParks by hosting the family.

Some employees at the park told City Press they were happy now that their complaints were finally being taken seriously.

“This is finally happening after such a long time of denial by SANParks,” said one employee.

“We would like to see all the racist people being dealt with,” he said.


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