Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park: SAPS and Directorate for Priority Crimes briefing; Capacity building at K9 units: SAPS briefing ​

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29 January 2016
Chairperson: Mr F Beukman (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee was briefed by the South African Police Service on the activities of the Hawks and the SAPS in the fight against rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park. General Mthandazo Nhlemeza, National Head of Hawks, also briefly updated the Committee on new appointments. The Deputy National Commissioner for Policing Operations reported that rhino poaching had been increasing since 2009, with a decline last year, but it was clear that special security measures were still needed. Most poaching happened in the border game parks. Successes in the fight against rhino poaching in the last year were outlined, including the numbers of arrests and recovery of horns, weapons, ammunition, vehicles and phones. 928 cases were reported, with 29 convictions and 433 cases still under consideration. Some statistics were presented on the breakdown of nationality of the poachers, the projects and investigations. Recently, a number of Mozambicans had been sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The five-pillar approach, including intelligence, proactive and reactive and combat arms, detection, communication and liaison, was outlined and explained. Visible policing included roadblocks, vehicle check points, community engagement and education, and local liaison with private rhinos owners associations and agreements with other countries. Challenges included late identification of crime scenes because of the vast areas, spotters posing as tourists, operational costs and lack of capacity. However, the multi-disciplinary approach was proving successful. Members asked for updates on points raised in previous presentations, whether border control capacity as improving, any legal instruments between countries, and if anything was done to address SMS messages, the involvement of any SAPS members in poaching. Some Members were discomforted and questioned if the mandate could be delivered, and emphasised the need to impose strong sentences, particularly on syndicates. Members wanted to know how technology was used, and emphasised the importance of work in the communities.

The next presentation discussed the current status and attempts to build capacity at the K9 dog units, of which there are 105. There was 1467 handlers, 1 243 functional K9 handlers, 224 trained handlers without dogs and 197 candidate handlers. A detailed breakdown was given of the provincial spread and spending in various categories. There is an imminent shortage. The fact that so many trained handlers lacked dogs affected the process of arresting suspects. The sources of the dogs, and the costs, was discussed and the Committee encouraged SAPS to be more proactive and try to source other animals in a different way. They asked whether dogs were retired, who was responsible for meeting their veterinary needs, the short term plans to address the shortages, and how the shortages had arisen and were now being addressed. They asked about any formal agreements or forums between breeders and handlers, and the reason for non expenditure in the past.  SAPS noted that an integrated plan to cover the short term and medium term will be developed.  

Meeting report

Chairpersons opening remarks
The Chairperson expressed his appreciation for the work done to date by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in regard to the recent arrests of those involved in organised crime, particularly those involved in killing of police officers and drug trafficking.

Hawks introductory presentation
General Mthandazo Nhlemeza, National Head, Hawks, headed the delegation, and briefly addressed the Committee, noting the recent appointments that were made, and stressing the competence and academic qualifications of those appointed. He also commented that equity requirements were met since all appointments were in line with a 50/50 appointment of males and females in top positions. .

Ms M Mmola (ANC) said she was very happy and impressed about the appointment of women into top management positions.

Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) wished the team good luck in their work and was also impressed about the equity in the appointments.

The Chairperson asked General Nhlemeza to ensure all other vacant positions would be filled as soon as possible.

Fight against rhino poaching in Kruger National Park
South African
Police Service (SAPS) briefing, in conjunction with Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI)
Lt General Khehla Sitole, Deputy National Commissioner: Policing Operations, SAPS, gave the presentation. He noted that rhino poaching, especially in the Kruger National Park, has been on the increase since 2009, giving rise to the need for specific security measures to be put in place. Rhino poaching occurs mostly in the game parks situated at the borders of countries or provinces. An intergovernmental integrated operation against rhino poaching has been in place since 2011 at both national and provincial levels. Rhino poaching is a major problem in South Africa, especially in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal and the Kruger Park is the most affected. 2015 shows a decline in the poaching of rhinos from the previous year. There is usually a sharp decline in the activities of the poachers between the months of April and September. A lot of factors may be responsible for this.

Several successes were recorded in 2015 in the fight against rhino poachers. A total of 317 arrests were made, and 39 Rhino horns were recovered, as well as 188 hunting rifles, 33 pistols, three short guns, 39 silencers, 1 663 ammunitions, 64 axes, 52 knives, 17 vehicles and 84 cellphones were recovered from poachers. A total of 928 cases were reported between January and December 2015. There were 29 convictions, 433 cases are under investigation and 405 were undetected. 491 cases were reported before the reporting period but were finalised between January and December 2015. Out of 48 people accused in 29 cases, 13 were South Africans and 35 were Mozambicans. There are currently nine projects running and 11 current major investigations in the anti-poaching efforts.

An example of sentences imposed were given in the case against  A Sithole, W Nyathi and B Nugere (all Mozambicans) who were each sentenced to 9 years imprisonment for trespassing, possession of fire-arms and ammunition. They were arrested on 15/6/2015 and were sentenced on 26/8/2015.

Data integrity and intelligence gathering were part of the issues affecting the fight against rhino poachers. This led to the development of an integrated model that was made up of five pillars. The approach was inter-departmental and multi-disciplinary, and was driven and managed with operational activities planned, coordinated and monitored at the Mission Area Joint Operational Centre (MAJOC) Skukuza. The five pillars are:
- Intelligence gathering, coordination and analysis
- Proactive approach
- Combat approach
- Reactive work through detection
- Communication and liaison.

Intelligence gathering involves the deployment of dedicated intelligence operatives who gather intelligence on poaching related incidents and cases, providing tactical information to the operational structures for implementation purposes. An Intelligence Coordinating Committee was established, which is responsible for intelligence coordination and consolidation of all available intelligence products. Information and intelligence analysis also includes the profiling and linkage of wanted suspects, identification and analysis of hotspots, analysis of the modus operandi and the provision of analysis products to both proactive and reactive teams.

Lt General Sithole amplified that the proactive approach involves the deployment of rangers, visible policing activities and community engagement. Visible policing activities include roadblocks and vehicle check points on identified routes. 36 police stations had named rhino poaching as a threat on their day-to-day policing activities, comprising 11 in Mpumalanga, nine in Limpopo and 16 in KwaZulu-Natal. Community engagement involves educating and developing the various communities on the importance of nature conservation, with specific reference to the wildlife environment. The combat approach deals with law enforcement. Reactive through detection deals with crime scene management. The environment crime investigators from the parks provide assistance and support to investigation teams by identifying crime scenes and incidents, providing operational and air support to the crime scenes. Investigation of cases and suspect database consolidation is also a part of the reactive through approach. Communication and liaison includes security communication where weekly media releases on successes, including convictions by intervention task teams, are made. A continuous sensitizing of communities on the security aspects and dangers of illegal poaching was being done. Local liaison involves relevant stakeholders such as the Private Rhinos Owners Associations (PROA). There are international engagements with various countries such as Czech Republic, Mozambique and Vietnam in relation to rhino DNA sampling. South Africa has signed a memorandum of understanding with these countries on exchange of relevant information. This five-pillar approach had improved coordination and cooperation among role players, there had been an increase in arrests and successful prosecutions, improved efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. There had also been an improvement in community relations and support.

There were some major challenges outlined with the fight against rhino poachers. These included the late identification of crime scenes and discovery of rhino carcasses, due to the large area of the parks, spotters entering into the parks posing as tourists so they could identify the locations of the rhinos, the lack of capacity to cover all mission areas by deployment, and the operational costs of accommodating members of the team.

He concluded that the current approach of involving more relevant stakeholders in an integrated and coordinated manner has been successful. Measures are being put in place to ensure that this type of crime does not spread to other areas in the country. The sustainability of the current model in fighting rhino poachers is a top priority, with every effort being made that the successes recorded can be sustained and improved upon.

The Chairperson noted that in the 2014 budget, R37 million was allocated to the fight against poaching, but this was not captured in the presentation. He wanted to know the parameters used in measuring the success in the fight against rhino poachers. He remarked also that the issue of technology was raised in the last meeting but this was not captured in the current presentation. He wanted to know if this had been addressed and, if not, why not. Speaking on the deployment of crime detectives he noted that increased presence of detectives is no guarantee of reduction in poaching activities. He asked if night vision equipment was being used.

Mr L Ramatlakene (ANC) commended the decrease in the figures, and agreed with Mr Beukman that an increase in detectives is no guarantee of a reduction in poaching activities. He suggested that an understanding of the operational activities of the poachers would be helpful. He wanted to know if the police were happy with the mobilisation rate in the communities, commenting that he thought that at least 20% of the problem could be solved if this was well done. He asked if there was headway in border control capacity, and if there were any legal instruments between the neighbouring countries for border control specifically to address poaching. He also mentioned the issue of advertisements for rhino sales circulating on social media and by SMS and asked if anything was being done about this.

Ms M Mmola (ANC) referred to slide 6 and called for an explanation on the numbers. She also wanted to know if there were any SAPS members involved in poaching or giving assistance to poachers.

Mr P Mhlongo (EFF) expressed that he was totally disappointed.  He felt the whole presentation was vague and had no workable action plan. He stated that the current structure is totally confusing and he felt the mandate cannot be delivered.

Mr J Maake (ANC) referred to slide 9 of the presentation, and asked for more explanation on the term “racketeering”. He also sought an explanation as to why people were given the option of fines. He wanted to ensure that syndicates who were highly connected did not get away with merely paying fines.

The Chairperson noted that the accommodation challenges were also raised in the last presentation and asked if there were any updates on this.

General Nhlemeza, with input also from Colonel Johan Jooste of the Hawks, responded to the issue of racketeering, and explained that racketeering is a charge that is presented after investigation. It is aimed at dealing with the syndicates who had “foot soldiers” to do the poaching. When the foot soldiers are arrested the big bosses are usually charged with racketeering. If a conviction was obtained, such syndicates would forfeit their assets to the government and could pay fines as high as R100 million.

Lt General Sitole answered the questions on how success was measured, saying that the success in the fight against rhino poachers was measured by the output in comparison to the input. He stated that, in comparison to previous years, the current integrated approach had been very productive. Technology was part of the plan. The police were looking at the possibility of using drones but the initial tests carried out were not very positive. There is a project in place to look at the best technological approach. There was the possibility of modelling against Kenya because this country had successfully deployed technology in the fight against poachers.

Major General Ravichandran S Pillay responded to the issue of equipment and night vision equipment, and stated that a lot of requests come in from the supply chain division for equipment ranging from binoculars through GPS devices to vehicles such as Toyota Land Cruisers. He assured the Committee that each of the items requested was always approved and delivered. In terms of accommodation, the detectives are housed in Sand River military base, the forensics team are also housed there and any extra personnel involved in operations would be housed in guest houses. The pilots are housed at the Skukuza Airport. The housing needs of all stakeholders involved in operations were taken care of adequately.

General Nhlemeza noted the comments on community engagement in the fight against rhino poachers and stated that he was not fully happy, because a lot of these poachers give money to the locals in these communities to house them. He assured the Committee that a lot was being done to address this problem. A vetting process on rangers and their equipment was always carried out before each operation.

Major General Johan Jooste (Rtd), Commanding Officer:Special Projects, SAPS told the Committee that a new approach of securing the parks from the outside was being put in place. He stated further that every ranger now goes through a compulsory lie detector test to ensure that the rangers are not involved in anything shady. He too spoke to technology, and said that much integration is still ongoing to get the best possible option.

General Nhlemeza stated that the allocation of resources was a challenge in the past, but he was hopeful that this would change with the appointment of a new provincial head. He also promised Mr Mhlongo that with the current projects running, the Committee members would see a positive decline in rhino poaching.

Lt General Nobesuthu Masiye, Head: Visible Policing, SAPS, remarked that roadblocks are usually a one-time thing and also a daily deployment. The officers who are involved usually act on intelligence and know exactly what and who they are looking for when they mount roadblocks.

General Nhlemeza also stated that in addition to the memorandum of understanding signed with other countries, a legal framework is being worked out with neighbouring countries in order to protect the borders.

Mr Mhlongo noted the mention of ongoing projects with respect to capacity building, but was insistent that a definite hand-over date must be fixed and given in the next presentation to the Portfolio Committee.

Lt General Sitole responded that the current project of fighting off rhino poachers was a national intervention, to be regarded as a medium-term intervention. The intention of the project is to hand over the policing of the parks to the locals after all necessary training had  been completed. He promised to keep the Committee informed when a total withdrawal had been completed.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation and welcomed all implementation strategies that would be proposed to achieve all set goals. He also encouraged the delegation to work on the possibility of using technology in their fight against poachers and he also encouraged the delegation to pay significant attention to community policing.

Capacity building at K9 units: SAPS briefing
Major General M Motlhala, SAPS, said that the total number of K9 units in the South African police service is 105. A breakdown of the figures showed that the Eastern Cape had the highest number, with fourteen K9 units, KwaZulu-Natal had 13 units; Limpopo and Western Cape had 12 and 11 units respectively. There are a total of 1 467 K9 handlers in the country. Gauteng has 251 handlers, which is the highest in the country. There is a total of 1 243 functional K9 handlers, 224 trained K9 handlers without dogs and 197 candidate K9 handlers.
The HRD Division is responsible for scheduling and presenting training according to the available training capacity on national and decentralised level. There is an imminent shortage of police dogs to meet operational needs. There are 215 old operational dogs within the SAPS who need to be replaced.

He explained that there are 95 patrol trained K9 handlers without dogs and this affects the process of arresting suspects and the tracking of suspects. Other figures in the various categories of trained handlers who were without dogs included 84 explosive K9 handlers, 31 narcotic K9 handlers, nine tracker K9 handlers, three biological body fluid K9 handlers, two protected species K9 handlers, and one search and rescue K9 handler. A breakdown of the number of dogs to be replaced within the provinces showed that the Eastern Cape and Gauteng had the highest number of 48 each. The dogs are usually sourced from donations, and although there had been some measure of success recorded with this approach, it has been inconsistent and unreliable. Dogs are also bred, but the breeding section currently contributes very little. Outright purchase of dogs is also another way to obtain dogs. Most suppliers of dogs work on a first come, first serve-basis.

The SAPS has put in some measures to solve the problems associated with acquisition of dogs. The HRD Division is to budget for the procurement of the required dogs, and the supplier registration and procurement process is also to be made more efficient. In the 2015/2016 year, 36 dogs died, 197 dogs have been bred, 72 dogs are still at breeding stages, and 82 dogs are marked to undergo pre-training, whilst seven dogs are marked for the SPCA. A total of 174 dog donations were received in 2015/2016. Handlers purchased 32 dogs; SPCA had 101 dogs and 2 euthanized dogs. 182 dogs were assessed from 13 local providers, with 43 suitable for purchase. 139 dogs were classified as being unsuitable. 40 dogs were purchased from a single supplier in the Netherlands.

There is also a shortage of K9 trainers. There is a need for operational K9 handlers with two years’ experience and multi-skilled K9 handler trainers. There are a total of 144 dogs for training.  In the short term, for the 2016/2017 year, for trained handlers without dogs, a total of R4 320 000 is allocated to the purchase of dogs at a unit cost of R30 000 per dog. R1.2 million is to be spent on decentralized training for 96 decentralized training members. 

There are about 197 members at units, in the 2016/17 short term plan, awaiting a K9 training course. 120 national training members and 120 dogs are required for training.  A total of R3.6 million is budgeted for dog purchases. For the medium term (2017/2018), there are 67 trained K9 handlers without handlers, seven decentralised training interventions, 36 decentralised training members. R525 000 is to be spent on decentralised training. There will be 31 training members and 67 dogs required for training. R2 010 000 is to be spent on dogs. 

The figures for members at K9 units awaiting a K9 course in the medium term (2017/2018), show 75 members awaiting K9 training, 75 national training members and 75 dogs required for training and a total cost of R2 250 000 for dog acquisition.

Also in the medium term, for replacement of dogs to be boarded, there are 215 trained K9 handlers without dogs, 23 decentralised training members, 48 national training members, 71 dogs required for training. R300 000 is to be spent on decentralised training and R2 130 000 for dogs.

For Novice K9 courses for new K9 unit appointees, there are 40 training members and 40 dogs required for training. R1 200 000 is proposed for dog acquisition.

For the long term plan (2018/2019), R675 500 is budgeted for decentralised training and R4.32 million for dogs as replacement of dogs to be boarded.

For novice K9 courses for new K9 unit appointees, R2 820 000 is proposed for dogs and 94 training members and dogs required.

He concluded that it would be fruitless expenditure to have trained K9 handlers without dogs at K9 units. There must be a secure ring-fenced budget for the procurement of dogs. It is also proposed that the specialisation of K9 service be documented and finalized with an allocated budget to ensure the specialised function.


The Chairperson noted that there were gaps in the presentation. He wanted to know who is responsible for the dogs and if there was a strategic plan in place for the retirement of the dogs. He also wanted to know who was responsible for the veterinary needs of the dogs and the short term plans for addressing the shortages of dogs.

Mr Ramatlakane asked if there were any solutions to the shortages and why there were shortages, since a lot of money was being allocated to the SAPS for dogs. He queried if this was to do with the strategic allocation of resources.

Ms Mmola stated that the figures in the presentation did not seem to add up. She also wanted to know what jobs the handlers without dogs are doing presently.

Mr Maake asked if the figure of R30 000 per dog was for just dog purchases or whether that figure included training of the dogs.

Major General Motlhala responded that the Division of Visible Policing is responsible for the dogs. The animal welfare committee within the Division meets on a quarterly basis and inspections are being conducted in all units to check on the animal welfare. There are three main veterinary hospitals which cater for the needs of the dogs. These hospitals are located in only three provinces and in cases where emergency veterinary attention was needed, the local veterinary doctors would be used, who would be paid promptly.

Major General Pillay added that there are contracts in place to meet the veterinary needs of the animals.

Lt General  Sitole responded to the questions around shortages in dogs. Prior to last year, when the Visible Policing strategy was adopted, there was no specific plan in place. Now needs are prioritized, to assess which is more important, the dogs or the handlers. An audit committee has been set up which will be able to identify all hot spots.

Lt  General Nhanhla Mkhwanazi, Divisional Commissioner, SAPS, stated there was enough money in the unit for the purchase of dogs. R5.1 million was allocated in the 2014/2015 year to buy dogs but this amount could not be spent. In the 2015/2016 year R10 million was allocated but only R3 million had been spent so far. This was a result of the process involved in the acquisition of these dogs. Quality assurance audits are first conducted on the dogs to ensure they pass the required medical tests and are fit for training.

The Chairperson asked if there were any forums between the breeders association and the police.

Mr L Ramatlakane wanted more explanation on the purchase of the dogs, and if the discrepancy was a management issue or a question of prioritisation.

Mr J Maake demanded to know who comes first, the dog or its handler and also asked about the costs of keeping the dog, and whether the figures quoted included training.

Lt General   Mkhwanazi responded that there is no formal forum between the breeders associations and the SAPS but there were a lot of engagements between them. The non-expenditure of funds was a result of the slow process in the procurement train and all bottlenecks are being looked into to ease the process.

Lt General  Sitole assured the Committee that all issues raised would be adequately looked into and an integrated plan that will cover the short term and medium term will be developed and feedback provided to the Committee in the next meeting.

The Chairperson  specifically asked that all funds allocated to dogs be spent. He advised the SAPS to think outside the box and find other ways of getting dogs.

The meeting was adjourned.



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