SADF used ivory to fund war in Angola

An official probe into ivory and rhino horn smuggling has pointed a finger at the South African Defence Force, reports Ann Eveleth

The South African Defence Force (SADF) used funds from poached ivory to recover some of the costs of supplying Unita Forces with provisions during South Africa’s secret war with Angola.

South African taxpayers forked out more than R5-million a year for a military front company that was used to supply Unita forces with provisions—and the army then tried to recover these costs by allowing the firm to export ivory poached from that country’s free- ranging herds of elephants.

This is according to evidence presented this week at an official probe into ivory and rhino horn smuggling in South Africa. Dr Christo Briers, who served as director of financial administration for the SADF during the war in Angola from 1985, told a government inquiry this week that the SADF had paid R450 000 each month for transport costs to Frama Intertrading Pty Ltd, the SADF front that was set up in 1980 to assist

Brier’s testimony to the Kumleben Commission of Inquiry into the Alleged Smuggling and Illegal Trade in Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn followed evidence from South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief of staff, logistics Lieutenant-General Philip du Preez, that the military assisted Unita in the illicit ivory trade between mid-1977 and late-1979 in an effort to offset the costs incurred by Pretoria in supporting the rebel war effort.

Du Preez testified that in 1975 he started a covert logistical supply operation to assist Unita. In 1977, the SADF had, at the request of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi, agreed to expand the operation to provide a channel for the sale of ivory to help finance the rebel

The commission heard how the SADF had provided covert vehicles to transport ivory from the Angolan border to a Veterinary Services quarantine station at Rundu in Namibia.
It was stored there until an SADF employeee and Portuguese-speaking refugee, Francisco Lopes, collected it for the purpose of selling it on behalf of Unita. Lopes then sold the ivory to Koos Muller, Toni Giannini and another man named Bonniday.

Du Preez testified he had then ordered the operation shut down in 1979 after it had become clear that indigenous hardwoods from Angola could be sold by Unita to finance their provisions. Du Preez said he then helped form Frama the following year to assist with both these functions, with Lopes and another Portuguese-speaker, Arlindo Maia, as company directors.

But the commission’s legal officer, Ray Sansom, said a number of witnesses had given evidence that the ivory deals continued well into the 1980s.Sansom said ivory trader Koos Muller told him during an interview in Namibia that the SADF was involved in ivory movement throughout the period it was involved in Angola.

Former Special Forces operative Abraham “Boetie” Gedula told the commission that officers in the SADF had been involved in illicit ivory and rhino horn movement at least until 1986. Gedula worked for the SADF in northern Namibia between 1979 and 1989.

Gedula said his commanders at Amahoni had also given “instructions to Bushmen employed by the army, to shoot the animals. The troops would be taken across the border to Angola and Zambia for this purpose”.

Neither Du Preez nor his temporary replacement, Major- General Marius Oelschig, admitted to knowledge of such operations. Oelschig took over from Du Preez from 1978 to 1979, but said he had not been told of the original agreement with Unita and did not tolerate military involvement in ivory.

Ian Parker, an expected witness at the commission, had told Sansom that records obtained from Veterinary Services indicated that in the first three months of 1979 alone, permits had been issued at Rundu for the importation of some 3 911 elephant tusks and 700 rhino horns from Angola—at least some of them in the name of military personnel.

In an affidavit to the South African Police Environmental Services Protection Unit in 1993, former SADF Major Des Burman said he had seen 60 crates of ivory at an army weapons store between 1978 and 1980. The crates had been marked “dental equipment”.

Evidence suggests that an SADF in-house probe conducted in 1988 was a whitewash. The military’s Roos Inquiry that year found “there was no evidence to prove that the defence force was responsible for or involved in the killing of elephants. However, small quantities of ivory captured by Unita from poachers and others in Angola were transported by the Defence Force on behalf of Unita over an 18-month period from mid-1978 to the end of 1979”.

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