This is outcome of an investigation by Oscar Nkala and is dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and nature, not only in Africa but right across the world..
BULAWAYO - Any search around the name of South African national Dawie Groenewald would be incomplete if it omits to mention that the man is a former member of the South African Police Services (SAPS) who was dishonourably discharged from the force after an internal probe found him guilty of taking stolen cars straight out of the recovered stolen vehicle pound and selling them back to criminals and unsuspecting citizens.
It is also known publicly that Groenewald is the director of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, a hunting outfit operating out of the small outpost of Old Days about 100km from Musina. The company is also registered in the same name at Overland Park in the United States county of Kansas. OAS, which also operates in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and has a European business representative based in Paris, France, also trades as Adventurous Safaris on the world wide web offering safari hunts in in its African bases.
But that is all there is to be known if one does not burrow deeper into the operations of the 43 year-old Groenewald, the man arrested by the South African Hawks special investigations unit on allegations of being the mastermind behind what has come to be known as the Musina Mafia, an outfit which could turn out to be Africa's biggest rhino, elephant and lion poaching syndicate if proven to have existed.
Eleven members of the "Musina Mafia", led by Groenewald, his 35 year-old American born wife Sariette, professional hunter Tielman Erasmus, veterinarians Karel Toets, Manie du Pleiss and Marissa Toet were early this month remanded to September when they appeared in court to face charges of poaching, illegal gun posession and many other associated crimes in the border town of Musina.The busting of the syndicate uplifted the spirits of South African conservation farmers and animal rights activists who have reasons to believe it was behind sophisticated poaching raids that killed even those rhinos deemed to be in the safest of the country's animal sanctuaries.
However, an investigation conducted over the last two months by the Daily News reveals a paper trail of the Groenewald operations that leads into Zimbabwe and exposes how he used his links with top ZANU PF officials in the murky safari hunting business to take full advantage of the utter chaos created by President Robert Mugabe's fast track land reform to carry out illegal rhino, elephant and lions hunts while earning even more illicit dollars from inflating the number of hunts on his legally acquired qoutas. That was until the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority noticed his activities banned him from operating in the country, first in mid 2003 and finally in September 2004.
On the contrary, evidence gathered by the Daily News shows that the ban did not stop Out of Africa Safaris and its international agents from conducting business in Zimbabwe until 2006, shortly before Groenewald was suspended from the South African Professional Hunters Association for conducting illegal hunts and abusing legally acquired hunting quotas. From its base on 7930 W 155th Terrace, Overland Parks, Kansas 66223 in the US, OAAS has over the years been able to attract scores of American hunters into the five African countries that still have rhino, elephant and lion territory - South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Information available to the Daily News suggests that OAAS came to the notice of Zimbabwean animal rights activists in 2003 when 250 bateleur eagles were exported to a falcon-breeder Sheikh in United Arab Emirates, the Middle East's equivalent of the proverbial island plenty in a sea of grinding poverty. According to a March 2003 report posted on wildlife website Africa Indaba, the international concern at the sale rose because it was allegedly done thorugh a deal facilitated by ZANU PF-linked Ed Kadzombe whose safari hunting business E.K Safaris trades out of Number 30 Golden Stairs Avenue in the plush surbub of Avondale in Harare.
At that time it was known that EK Safaris was the Zimbabwe partner for OAAS and operated in many parts of the Gwayi Valley Conservancy and around the Sinamatela and Matetsi Five concessions near Victoria Falls where the company is also alleged to have facilitated the sale and translocation of 160 sables from a private conservancy in the Chinhoyi area to South Africa, allegedly with the help of Vitalis Chadenga, then acting director in the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
The South African Professional Hunters Association suspected that the OAAS, using its proximity to Zimbabwe, of facilitating the illegal deal which latter turned sour and became public when Ed Kadzombe, his South Africa buyer and the legal owned of the sable fought a court battle over the non-payment of money involved in the deal. Reporting on the court battle, South African newspaper Business Day said the average cost of a live sable in the SA market at that time was R4000, which placed the total cost of the animals involved at R93 000.
At the the height of the international outcry over poaching in Zimbabwe in 2003, animal rights activists started expressing concern that the rhino and elephant poaching crisis was being fuelled by unscrupulos foreign safari operators in collusion with government ministers, wildlife management officers, elements of the security forces and ZANU PF henchman who had invaded the farms. But the identities were to come in January 2003 when 'well-organised' poachers slaughtered four black rhinos at Sinamatela camp.
Officially, no one was arrested for the offence but information supplied by national parks investigations sources suggests that while the concession on which the animals were shot was legally under EK Safaris, it was a group of American hunters brought illegally into the country and by the OAAS and allowed to operate through collusion with EK Safaris who had carried out the massacre and left it with the hallmarks of a poaching scene.
The investigation also revealed that OAAS, with the help of Zimbabwean partners EK Safaris and Inyathi Hunters, a company jointly-owned by former Matabeleland North governor and ZANU PF provincial chairman Jacob Mudenda and Enio Di Palmer (who owns Bulawayo-based steel-manufacturing firm Steelforce), used their American representative Richard Putman of Seminole Safaris in the US state of Alabama to lure hundreds of American hunters to conduct illegal hunts in the Gwayi Valley Conservancy, Hwange National Park and the Matetsi Five Intensive Conserrvation Areas between 2003 and 2005.
In Zimbabwe, OAAS used its hunters-co-directors Nick Van Rensburg and Glen Van Rensburg were assisted by EK Safaris and Zimbabwean professional hunters Albert Paradzai, PH licence number 6016 B, described as a fomer pilot with the Parks and Wildlife Authority, Dawie Van Der Westhuizen PH licence no. 5957 B, who was then listed as a farmer in Karoi and Chris Chitsa, professional PH licence number 5780B. Between 2003 and 2005, conservationists records on the tracking of vehicles which were seen driving into and out of poaching hot-spots created a consistent log on which nine Toyota Landcruiser vehicles fitted with registration numbers DDM 850 N, DWF 519 N, FFC 217 N, MWF 519, DDM 865 N, FBG 847 N, FBT 052 N, FBR 649 N and FBJ 847 N. The letter N shows that all the vehicles were registered in the Northern Province.
"These companies, professional hunters and motor vehicles were hunting within the Gwayi Valley Conservancy where they were mainly concentrating their illegal operations on Goodluck Ranch ,Chimwara Ranch , Railway Farm 35 and Sekumi Estates and Railway Farm 31," reads part of the summary of the 2003 Gwayi Valley Conservancy Hunting Report.
The report also notes the illegal operations of professional hunters Bagman Chauke PH Licenec No.6092B, Dellerman PH Licence No. 5874B, Thulani Dube PH Licence No. 6096B, Guy Venter PH licence no. 5919B, Phil Palmer, PH licence no. 5801B, one Ndlovu PH licence no. 6070B, one Chimiaza PH licence no. 6064B, and a B Jolliffe with PH licence no. 5920B. They were all employed by Nyati Safaris and were seen by poaching watchers on many occassions guiding illegal foreign hunters, most of whom were Americans, in the black rhino zones of the Gwayi Valley Conserrvancy and Woodlands Estate in the Matetsi Five concession area.
The report also reveals that the endless chain of American hunters who were guests of Nyati Hunters, came through the OAAS which got them through Nyati Safaris American agents Dick and Mary Cabella of Cabelas Outdoor Adventures, a company listed as operating out of Number 1, Cabela Drive, Sidney in Nebraska, USA. But the OAAS was not the only South African outfit involved in plundering Zimbabwe's rhino heritage. South African brothers Piet and Hendrik Uys, directors of Northern Weapons which is also trading in Afrikaans as 'Noordlike Wapens' out of Louis Trichadt in the Northern Province are ported to have conducted extensive illegal hunts in the same area at the same time.
The Uys brothers are believed to be the owners of three Toyota Landcruiser trucks with registration numbers NWZ 918 GP, FBD 185 N AND DPK 173 N and the Gwayi Hunting Report of 2003 observes their actiona as follows: "These characters were very active through out the year with-in the Gwayi Valley Conservancy , mainly concentrating on Gwayi Ranch , Hankano Ranch , Lot 1 of Dete Valley Railway Farms 35 & 36 and Chimwara Ranch.They were hunting indiscrimantly shooting young animals, females etc."
"In the course of the year, Gwayi Valley Conservancy members also questioned illegal hunters on their farms. The name given to them of the South African hunters were Andre De Jaager who was caught poaching while driving a blue Landrover Vehicle registration number DMT 498 GP and one R M Saunders of Jack Rand, Alberton in Johannesburg who claimed to have been brought into the country by Elephant Eye Safaris. The above were seen in the company of three American hunters and De Jaager shot and wounded a buffalo on Sotani Ranch.De Jaager is staying at the Lodge on Chamankanu Ranch. He has also been seen hunting on Lugo Ranch (owned by Vice-President John Nkomo) and Skukungwa farms. He has been arrested twice for hunting illegally on Skukungwa Ranch," reads part of the 2003 hunting report.
South African national Mark Sparrow of Fair Chase Safaris in Polokwane, old Zimbabwean vehicle registration number 587 150F, was also reported to have conducted extensive illegal hunts. "Sparrow has been hunting on Hankano Ranch and Lot 1 of Dete Valley and reportedly wants to start a fishing safari business in Masuna island on the Zambezi. He has already made offers to property owners from Masuna. This desire to purchase land is not illegal, but is an indication of his presence in the area. He is involved with the Uys brothers of Northern Weapons, Louis Trichadt," the report noted in 2003.
The report also reveals the activities of Henry F. Neil, a controversial Cape Town clergyman who is described as a story worth following. "Henry. F. Nel is a minister in the Rock of Africa Christian mission in Cape Town. He apparently would not allow any blacks into his church there, but is quite happy to form illicit liaisons with black Zimbabweans. He is apparently assisting a school in the Gwaai area to justify his position there. He is apparently working out of Kalambeza Lodge which is situated on Umkombo Ranch with in the Gwayi Valley Conservancy.
"Further, this character is known to the Gwayi Valley Conservancy for the destruction and decemation of the natural resources and wildlife on two certain pieces of land known as Carl Lisa and Bindonvale which he was leasing.He was the first person in the Gwayi Valley Conservancy to receive an order to stop all activities , including hunting operations ,chopping of trees and general destruction of fauna and flora on his land."
French national Jerome Sefridi, who is the director of Indaba Safaris of 10 Anthony Potts Road, Fortunes Gate in Bulawayo is also listed as having brought dozens of hunters from France to hunt illegally in the Gwayi Conservancy. Sefridi is a French national resident in Zimbabwe. He has been selling hunts to the French hunting community.He hunted extensively with-in the Gwayi Valley Conservancy, concentrating his illegal activities to Lot 1 , 2 , 3A of Dete Valley, Goodluck Ranch, Sikumi Estates, Chimwara Ranch, Gwayi Ranch and Hankano Ranches. He drives and hunts in h a green Mitshubishi jeep registration number 797-699 F."
As evidence gathered by Daily News shows, OAAS moved out of the Gwayi Conservancy in early 2003 after being temporarily banned for carrying out illegal hunts but still used their Zimbabwean connections to set up another operations based in the resort town of Victoria Falls to continue operations until the final ban in September 2004. In June 2003 a tracking collar taken off a lionese that was shot illegally was found in the homestead of Lot 2 Dete Valley Farm during the stay of a group of hunters from Hwange Safari Lodge and some from OAAS were reported to be staying at the hotel whose major shareholders are ZanuPF.
A surveillance log obtained by Daily News from the parks intelligence noted that on July 24, 2003, three South African landcruisers which had their number plates removed arrived in the Gwayi Conservancy and an occupant of one the vehicles was reportedly seen bribing officials at the veterinary road block before driving onto Goodluck Farm where hunting blinds were latter discovered to have been built around animal watering points.
"On 2 September 2003 four Americans were seen arriving in Victoria Falls. They were collected by a South African operator who turned out to be OAAS and were overheard saying they wanted to shoot as much as possible. On 4 September, a white landrover, vehicle registration FBT052N and belonging to Out of Africa Safaris was seen dropping zebra meat at the PTC (now Tel One) offices in Vic Falls although public vehicles are not permitted into this area," reads part of the parks investigations report.
As the watch on OAAS operations continued, undercover investigators witnessed the arrival of two Landrover twin-cab vehicles, registration numbers FBG 847 N and FBR 649 N with two American clients in Bulawayo on 15 September 2003 but the investaigators lost track of the vehicles and were unable to determine where they went until they re-appeared in Hwange National Park where they operated for the whole month. The surveillance log also states that on 25 September 2003, two vehicles from OAAS , a white Landrover twin cab with registration number DWF 519 N and a green Toyota Landcruiser double cab with registration number DDM 865N were seen in Victoria Falls filled with American hunters.
The log submits that OAAS remained active in the national parks as confirmed by the numerous sighting of three OAAS vehicles with registration numbers FBG 848N, DWF 519N and FBG 847N between 30 September 2003 and 16 October 2003 around Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park and Half Way Hotel inside the Gwayi Conservancy loaded with clients who told undercover investigators they were from America and South Africa. Based on the surveillance findings, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority wrote OAAS the final notice of expulsion from Zimbabwe.
"We refer to our letter dated September 24 and signed by Director General MZ Mtsambiwa and we wish to further clarify the letter and its effect on Out Africa Adventurous Safaris. Please be advised that in terms of the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14, OAAS is not allowed to operate as a safari operator conducting any hunting nor safari operations in the whole country of Zimbabwe. Our previous letter cited the Gwayi Intensive Conservation Area which was then known to be the operational area of OAAS. However, the company and all its staff are not allowed to conduct any business without the requisite licences and or permits from the appropriate authorities in Zimbabwe in terms of the laws and regulations of the country," reads the main body of the letter that expelled OAAS from Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce chairman Johnny Rodrigues told the Daily News that the trial of the Musina Mafia remains an issue of interest to Zimbabwean consrvationists who believe it will help lift the heavy lid on the politically connected rhino and elephant poaching syndicates which are still ravaging the parks.
"OAAS left a big footprint of their illegal operations in Zimbabwe. They were very much behind the decimation of not just elephant and rhino, but the zebra population in the sanctuaries around West Nicholson in Gwanda has been decimated for hides. Our understanding is that most of these poachers take the skins to the OAAS taxidermist factory in Old Days where they are tanned and prepared for export to Europe while elephant and rhino products are sent on to the Vietnamese and Chinese syndicates which finance this carnage. We will be very happy to meet the Hawks and tell them what we know about OAAS and many other unscrupulous South Africans who got their riches from plundering the wildlife heritage of this country," Rodrigues said.