by Fortunate M. Phaka
03 October 2015: Young South Africans from all walks of life filled the busy streets of Sandton and demanded a stop to the injustices associated with poaching and canned lion hunting. Traffic was brought to a standstill as they marched in protest for a better future for them and countless animals that are under threat from poaching and trophy hunting. These young people were not alone as parents had also joined the march. Some motorists were clearly annoyed by the unexpected delays while others hooted in solidarity. Regardless of whether or not they approved of the march these motorists heard the loud chants demanding harsher penalties for poachers and putting a stop to the senseless slaughter. They witnessed something that cannot be easily forgotten. They saw a group of youths, some younger than 10 years, that used their time and energy to positively influence their future.
We may not be as great as our peers from 1976, but it will never be said that youth was wasted on us. We came out in our numbers, and for a few hours creed and colour were irrelevant as we acknowledged that the wildlife crisis affects all. The violence associated with poaching does not stop with the countless animals slaughtered for their horns or tusks. The crime involved in poaching does not end with stolen wildlife products. Poaching has links to terrorism, so what starts as a poaching incident may eventually end as a crime against humanity. Terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab and Lord’s Resistance Army, who have killed and terrorised countless Africans, are believed to be funded by poaching activities. Illegal wildlife products can only leave the African continent and reach consumers in the Far East and the West with the assistance of corrupt officials. This corruption does not discriminate between threatening to destabilise ecosystems through poaching and threatening to destabilise governments by promoting unlawful activities. The corruption that we complain about in our everyday lives is the same corruption that makes trade in illegal wildlife products possible.
Besides threatening our lives and livelihoods, this wildlife crisis may also lead to South Africa being ridiculed by the rest of the world. How we react to canned lion hunting, and poaching of elephants and rhino will forever be engraved in our country’s history for future generations to read about. We could be remembered as having let demand countries dictate what happens to our wildlife, or we could go down in history as the country that showed political will and protected the future of its wildlife and its citizens.
Today: The march is over and the baton has been passed on to our elders and our leaders. The onus is now on the elders to back the youth as they strive to shape their own future. The leaders need to acknowledge that the future belongs to us and they should return it before it is too late. Through the Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions we have voiced our opinions. We have made it clear that the current wildlife crisis threatens our future and meaningful action needs to be taken to solve the problem. We chanted for the voiceless, but most important of all we have said; “Nothing for us, without us”.