Kruger Park: Rhino poaching used as an excuse to torture us, say black employees

Rangers accused of rhino poaching have been allegedly brutally tortured at the Kruger National Park. Picture: Gallo Images/Netwerk24/Deaan Vivier
Rangers accused of rhino poaching have been allegedly brutally tortured at the Kruger National Park. Picture: Gallo Images/Netwerk24/Deaan Vivier

Claims and counterclaims of torture and infiltration at Kruger Park

Norman Lubisi was allegedly strangled and smothered with a refuse bag after he was coerced to confess to being a rhino poacher.

After many hours of torture, says Lubisi in an affidavit, his supervisor took him to the Skukuza police station for interrogation.

The 29-year-old is a field ranger at the Kruger National Park (KNP), where black employees say “every black man is a suspect for rhino poaching”.

The incident of torture, which took place on January 16, is one of many that have befallen black employees at the world-renowned park.

Black employees have claimed that their superiors easily torture and suspend them from work for even minor offences, but nothing is ever done against errant white employees.

A fortnight ago, City Press reported that some of the employees had complained to Parliament and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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

Following the torture, Lubisi was suspended, even though no evidence linked him to rhino poaching.

Despite the criminal case being dismissed on January 18 at the Bushbuckridge magistrate’s court, he is still on suspension from work and it is unlikely that he will return soon.

“He strangled me and used a refuse bag to cover my face and suffocate me while he was insulting me, using the Shangaan language,” Lubisi said in his affidavit.

Lubisi said that the following day, he was taken to Bushbuckridge police station and released on free bail.

“I went back to work on January 28, but they [his superiors] refused to give me my R1 rifle that I am working with.”

He laid an assault charge against his supervisor, who cannot be named because he has not appeared in court.

Lubisi declined to comment to City Press last week because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Police said there was no record of the case number that Lubisi had given to City Press.

His mother, Elizabeth Sibiya (50), said that her son would have been back at work if he had not opened a case against his supervisor.

“My son was assaulted and detained for nothing. It is very sad that he is now also being prevented from returning to work because he laid an assault charge against the supervisor,” Sibiya said.

SA National Parks (SANParks) spokesperson Isaac Phaahla said he would not discuss disciplinary and criminal investigations with third parties.

“Both disciplinary cases and criminal investigations are highly confidential matters where the rights of all parties must at all times be respected and protected,” said Phaahla.

“SANParks is, accordingly, not at liberty to discuss the details, including charges and evidence in support of such charges, with any third party, including the media. Neither would we entertain any attempt to compromise these highly regulated processes and render them either procedurally or substantially flawed.

“We are, accordingly, in no position to divulge any information on the [police] or internal SANParks disciplinary processes involving either Mr Lubisi or [the supervisor]. Suffice to state that Mr Lubisi is currently suspended in accordance with SANParks policies, pending his disciplinary hearing scheduled for April. A grievance lodged against [the supervisor] is being investigated in accordance with the legal prescripts and policies of SANParks.”

Phaahla said that SANParks was infiltrated by organised criminal syndicates, who were driving the poaching scourge.

He said 34 rangers had been arrested for poaching since 2012 and those cases were on the court roll.

“We are aware that our rangers are being targeted for their diligent work by the same syndicates through disinformation using various platforms, including the media. We have confidence in our Ranger Corps as an organisation but do not discount the fact that some might be working against the organisation in assisting criminals,” Phaahla said.

Referring to allegations of racism against black employees as baseless and untrue, Phaahla said that 78% of the KNP’s 2 236 employees were African and only 9.5% were white.

“The demographics show that Africans are in the majority and are likely to feature highly in all aspects, including issues of disciplinary action,” he said.

“The reality is that the organisation is intolerant of ill discipline and criminality, and anyone who breaks the disciplinary code is subjected to a hearing regardless of race or creed.”

The case of a tortured field ranger who sued

In 2015 a field ranger, Tommy Mogakane, was also subjected to torture – almost in the same way as Lubisi – on suspicion of rhino poaching.

Members of the Hawks and the KNP’s environmental crime investigation unit demanded safe keys from Mogakane to look for horns and firearms in his official residence at the park.

No horns were found, but his firearms were confiscated. Mogakane was then taken to the unit’s office in Skukuza, where the 24-hour torture began.

According to evidence Mogakane presented to the Pretoria High Court, his face was covered with a masking tape, and he was ordered to sit on the floor with his legs stretched over while his hands were handcuffed. Mogakane was then covered with a tyre tube around his neck and it rested on his shoulders.

He was hanged “almost like a dead animal put up to dry” and then assaulted all over his body.

After being assaulted for 24 hours, Mogakane was dumped on the road until somebody assisted him to get to the hospital. When he came back from hospital, the police detained him at Skukuza on December 16.

After he sued the police, the Pretoria High Court ordered them to pay him R350 000 for unlawful arrest, detention and assault on December 20 2017.

Now Sibiya said her family was contemplating suing SANParks and the police for her son’s torture.



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Is dismissing allegations of racism on the part of SANParks sufficient? What measures should SANParks take to protect rangers from such assaults and work suspensions, and what preventive action is necessary to stop poaching syndicates from infiltrating SA’s parks?

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