Editorial: Rhino claims put Mahlobo on spot

On Sunday, South Africa was rocked by claims that Chinese rhino horn trafficker Guan Jiang Guang enjoyed a questionable friendship with State Security Minister David Mahlobo.

International broadcaster Al Jazeera aired a documentary in which Guang was secretly filmed bragging and implicating Mahlobo in an alleged rhino horn smuggling syndicate.

Guang also showed pictures of himself and Mahlobo, suggesting a friendship which allegedly serves to shield him and his syndicate from local authorities.

Guang claimed Mahlobo was a regular visitor to his Mpumalanga massage parlour, that he was a client of his “manicure girls” and that the minister had been a guest at his home.

Mahlobo has vehemently rejected the claims.

In a statement, the minister denied the suggested friendship and said he had never been to Guang’s home, nor had his wife ever been part of the syndicate as claimed by the businessman in the documentary.

Mahlobo said the picture was taken at Guang’s request during his visit to the parlour and that he had no idea that the man posing next to him was a rhino horn smuggler.

Naturally, the matter is of great concern.

At the very least, information from the documentary should give police reasonable grounds for a criminal investigation and prosecution of Guang and his gang.

South Africa’s struggle against rhino horn smuggling is well documented.

Researchers estimate that thousands of rhinos have been killed over the years – about 370 poached in the first quarter of this year alone.

The extent of this crisis should therefore give even more compelling reasons for an urgent probe to establish the veracity of Guang’s claims regarding Mahlobo.

What we are told so far by both men is disturbing.

At best, Mahlobo’s oblivion while frolicking with alleged rhino poachers calls into question the competence of the man heading our nation’s intelligence machinery.

At worst – if Guang’s claims are true – it places the minister at the centre of a criminal network that has had a far-reaching environmental and economic impact on our country.

Either way, these claims must be investigated and acted upon with urgency.

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