Tourists caught in gunfire attackJanuary 13, 2023
Eight foreign tourists and four South Africans came under gunfire attack on a double-decker tour boat in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday – unwitting bystanders in a broader drama involving the recent slaughter of about 25 elephants from a wandering herd now “trapped” on the border between and South Africa.
The tourists came under fire shortly after 10.30am on the eastern shores of the Jozini/Pongolapoort Dam on the southern border between SA and eSwatini.
They cowered on the decks of the Jozenic tour boat after being fired on, allegedly by a group of nearly 20 armed men linked to the recent slaughter of the elephants and other illegal poaching activity around Jozini Dam.
Local elephant and rhino monitor Suzette Boshoff, who was on the boat when the vessel was fired on, described the attack as “the scariest day of my life”.
It is understood there were eight foreign tourists on the boat – five Germans, two Americans and one Australian – along with four South Africans.
In recent months, several elephant carcasses have been discovered along the shoreline of the dam after a herd of more than 70 elephants went walkabout during a severe drought more than seven years ago.
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The herd, originally from the private Pongola Game Reserve, wandered into eSwatini via the shallow lake shores before returning to South Africa in about 2016.
The herd later ran into conflict with rural communities, culminating in the death of a local resident, who was trampled by an elephant cow last September.
The exact circumstances of that incident remain unclear, but it is understood the cow attacked in retaliation for the killing of its calf by poachers.
Some sources have suggested that the death of Bheki Nyawo triggered a family vendetta against the herd.
The conflict has been exacerbated by attempts to control illegal gill netting of fish by criminal syndicates, along with disputes over cattle grazing in a local nature reserve close to the border.
Original herd killed recently
According to Boshoff, about 25 of the original herd appear to have been killed in recent months.
An elephant carcass was discovered floating in the dam on New Year’s Day with one of its tusks removed.
Heinz de Boer, a Democratic Alliance (DA) MPL and provincial party spokesman on environmental affairs, condemned the attack on the tourists and elephants and appealed for national intervention.
“Armed groups of poachers have now completely laid siege to the eastern shores of the lake, with several elephant carcasses recently found, while dozens of gunshots have also been reported in the region,” he said.
“Guards near the eSwatini border have allegedly also come under attack and infrastructure damaged and torched.
“The DA has now also received video and photographic evidence of a tour boat coming under fire by armed gangs who continue to lay illegal gill nets in the lake.
“The rampant lawlessness and decimation of flora and fauna within this community has long been highlighted, with the conflict brewing for years. Yet, to date, government has failed to secure this tourist and wildlife haven.”
De Boer alleged the lake was being “systematically stripped of its fish stock” by poachers, while concerned locals tried to halt the poaching.
“The DA will escalate the war against poaching to the highest levels of government and demands the swift arrests of those who believe they can destroy our natural heritage and tourism sector. The situation can no longer continue.”
Boshoff told Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet that 12 charges of attempted murder were laid at the Pongola police station on Wednesday, but a SA Police Service spokesperson did not respond to requests for official confirmation of the complaint.
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– This article first appeared on Daily Maverick and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.