/ 10 May 2024

Rhino horn stockpiles too ‘tempting for criminals’

Two white rhino
The Hawks have arrested latest suspect in R9 million rhino horn theft from a stockpile facility in North West (Brent Stirton and African Parks)

The government’s stockpiles of rhino horn “provide a level of temptation” for criminal syndicates that should not exist, according to Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching (Oscap).

Kim Da Ribeira, of Oscap, was reacting to this week’s announcement by the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation that it had arrested a North West Parks and Tourism Board security official in connection with his alleged involvement in the theft of 51 rhino horns from a stockpile facility in Mahikeng in June last year. 

The horns have an estimated value of R9 million and were stolen from the headquarters of the North West Parks and Tourism Board.

“It’s one of the reasons why we shouldn’t have stockpiles of horn,” said Da Ribeira. “It is very vulnerable and is open to a whole lot of corruption as well because all of the officials know where the horns are stored, whether or not they’re catalogued properly. 

“The government believes that the ivory and the rhino horn that we’ve got are assets. They are not. They’re liabilities and an enormous risk and provide a level of temptation that doesn’t need to be there.” 

On Wednesday, Edwin Thapelo Rangaka was arrested at his workplace for his alleged involvement in the horn heist. He appeared briefly before the Mmabatho magistrate’s court on Thursday on charges of business burglary and was granted bail of R5 000. 

His accomplices, Elias Mangande and Lefa Mankgaba, were arrested last year in July. Mankgaba is out on bail, while Mangande is still in custody.

Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Dave Bryant welcomed Rangaka’s arrest. “The DA was the first to raise this matter publicly when the theft took place in June 2023, and successfully requested that the MEC, the North West Parks Board, SAPS and the Hawks appear before the committee of forestry, fisheries and the environment on two occasions,” he said.

“ The DA’s efforts have been vindicated and we commend the Hawks for their hard work leading up to this arrest.”

Major General Patrick Mbotho, the North West provincial head of the Hawks, commended the “sterling investigative work by the members”.