Saving Private Lion

It’s all so very tawdry and dull, this white-collar crime business. Sweaty people making breathless phone calls. Chubby fingers tapping nervously at grubby keyboards. Obscene amounts of money moving silently, electronically, from one place to another. Denials rehearsed, then refined, then rehearsed again, until all the stories are straight. Only then is the Johnnie Walker Black opened.

I miss the good old days when criminals were brave and brazen and did their dirty deeds out in the open. I miss bank robberies. Give me the Stander Gang over the Gupta Gang any day. Those guys were real men. They didn’t fanny about with tenders and contracts and veiled threats in gaudily decorated lounges. They stormed into banks with guns drawn. There was no mistaking what they were there for. There was no negotiating. No squalid glad-handing double-talk. You wouldn’t catch André Stander standing in front of a teller saying, “Tell you what, give me the money and I’ll make sure you get to manage this branch.”

And where have all the tunnel rats gone? In 1977 a bunch of guys spent their spare time tunnelling into the Krugersdorp Standard Bank. By the end of the Easter weekend, the vault had been emptied of around R1m worth of cash, traveller’s cheques and jewellery. They were never caught.

Sadly, nobody is interested in a career in tunnelling anymore. You’re going to ruin your shoes and get dirt under your fingernails. Today’s criminals are more afraid of hard work than they are of the police. And even if they did get a few lads together, by the time the hole was dug, someone would have formed the National Union of Bank Robbers and called a strike for better working conditions.

Experts later said the tunnel was a brilliant piece of work and that the robbers had a thorough knowledge of mining operations. I’m sure there were a couple of engineers on the job. As we know, there are no more engineers left in South Africa. For a heist like this to be pulled off today, you’d have to bring in the Cubans.

So, anyway. How about them lions, eh? No, I’m not talking about rugby, although there are similarities. For instance, both rugby and canned lion hunting are blood sports. But I’m talking about the animal with a muscular, deep-chested body, rounded head, round ears and a prominent mane. No, not Faf de Klerk. I’m referring to Panthera leo.

You might have heard that the government plans to outlaw the hunting of captive-bred lions. There are up to 12 000 of the murderous brutes in hundreds of facilities around the country. We have more lions than we know what to do with. Actually, we do know what to do with them. Let your kids pet them when they’re small, charge hunters to shoot them when they’re big, sell their bones and claws to the Chinese and Vietnamese … versatile animal, the lion.

Then, the other day, someone called Barbara Creecy, our environment minister, apparently, said that captive lion breeding has no place in SA and should be banned. She was responding to a report about the conservation of four of South Africa’s big five. I don’t know why only four. The fifth probably doesn’t deserve conserving. I bet it’s the leopard. Refuses to change his spots. Worse than Ace Magashule. It’s probably the buffalo, though. Ill-tempered swine, happy to kick you to death when you least expect it.

Barbs said the report will “provide a platform for a new wildlife policy”. Oh, I see. A platform, is it? And a new policy? Phew, that’s a bit much to take in all at once. What’s it now, the 21st century? By the time this magnificent new policy is implemented, elephants will have evolved into kangaroos and rhinos will be walking upright.

This lion affair has been dragging on for ages. Cast your mind back to 2009. You can’t? Fair enough. The plague has distorted our perception of time in the strangest of ways. Let me put it this way. 2009 was the year Jacob Zuma was elected president and Schabir Shaik was released from prison to play in the Malingerers Invitational at the Durban Country Club.

It was also the year Judge Ian van der Merwe said bio-diversity must be protected and that the breeding of lions in captivity with the sole purpose of canned hunting does not aid their protection. 

He said it was “abhorrent and repulsive” and ruled that these semi-tame animals may be hunted only 24 months after being set free from their breeding cages. Lion breeders asked that the 24 months be changed to “a few days”. Of course they did. Give a lion a two-year head start and he’s going to end up on the French Riviera with a penchant for Pomeranians and cocaine.

I don’t know what happened to the canned lions after that. I remember going to the France vs Uruguay game at the Cape Town Stadium sometime in 2010. Neither team scored. I did, though. The next clear recollection I have is waking up on a beach in 2018. Jesus also had a few years he couldn’t account for.

Anyway, the main thing is that the government has finally concluded that letting hunters shoot lions in captivity has a “negative impact” on the country’s reputation. Letting an immigrant family from Uttar Pradesh take over our government wasn’t a particularly good look either, but let’s stick with lions for now.

Conservationists said that many of the lions are kept in inhumane conditions and suffer from inbreeding, much like many of our people. There are now fresh concerns for the well-being of all those lions out there being petted and pampered and fattened up for the hunt.

What to do if you have a bunch of lions you can’t kill? I suppose you could just let them go. Take a few hundred down to the Union Buildings and release them in the parking lot at 5pm. Great sport. But they are cats, after all, and sooner or later you’re going to come home and find one sleeping on your bed.

If the government bans canned lion hunting, they must also ban battery chicken farming. The only difference between the two is that there is less of a demand for trophy hunting in the chicken industry because most taxidermists are unable to work with such small heads.

Throw them to the lions

I was woken by church bells last Thursday morning. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue and the birds seemed happier than usual. I could hear the sound of children laughing. It felt as if I were living in a village in Palermo and the Godfather, a ruthless man disliked by all, had died during the night.
Post-celebratory hangover notwithstanding, waking up to a South Africa without Jacob Zuma was intoxicating. Then, later in the day when Cyril Ramapahosa was sworn in as president, the sense of a fresh beginning was overwhelming. It was like the birth of a new nation. I got a glimpse of how lapsed Christians must feel when they return to the fold after running out of money for drugs. We are born-again South Africans. Halleluja.
Even the Hawks have discovered, to their surprise, that they were capable of removing their blinders all along. Their wings have grown stiff over the years but it seems they still remember how to fly.
Zuma was pushed onto his sword, an unusual way for any president to leave office. Then again, he was hardly a conventional president. For a start he showed no obvious interest in politics, which is rare for a politician. We know what made the man happy. Sex, money and overseas travel. The same goes for all of us, I suppose, but we’re not in charge of running a country. Most of us couldn’t have done any worse than Zuma, quite frankly.
I believe him when he says he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong. The ANC won’t tell him and nor will they tell us. The ex-president’s pet poison dwarf, Jessie Duarte, told journalists during her post-resignation hagiographic eulogy that she wasn’t going to give reasons for his recall because the media is “not known for being sensitive” and for caring about the feelings of people and their families. I laughed so hard that beer spurted from my nose.
The fact that Zuma is genuinely puzzled about his recall was evident when he chose to go on live television and complain to an SABC reporter about his unfair treatment. He seriously believed that he could win support by whining to the nation. That’s us, by the way. The people who have wanted him gone for far longer than his own party has. He was appealing to the most hostile audience imaginable, which supports my theory that he honestly believes he is loved by everyone apart from a handful of dissidents led by Cyril Ramaphosa.
There has been so much lyin’ going on lately that at some point my attention turned to lions, who hardly ever lie. They pretend a fair bit, though. Nothing to see here, Miss Springbok. I’m not a lion, I’m a termite mound. Zuma, on the other hand, has been pretending to be a lion and it turns out that he was a termite mound all along. Full of venal, corrupt termites, some of which managed to gnaw their way into the cabinet. This is why it’s full of dead wood today.
We all know about termites like Bathabile Dlamini, Malusi Gigaba, Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown, Mosebenzi Zwane, the list goes on, and it’s only right that the cabinet be fumigated to rid us of their insatiable ilk. But there are others who aren’t necessarily chewing their way through the fabric of our body politic. These ones are just as dangerous. They are, simply put, not very bright. I suspect this was part of Zuma’s strategy. Deploy the sluggish termites to slow bureaucracy down not so much that the economy grinds to a halt, but just enough to allow the industrious termites to latch on to the money streams and start the pilfering process.
To be honest, I don’t know if they work in concert. There are many perfect examples of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in almost every government department, but it could be that these deployees aren’t necessarily corrupt. They’re just morons. One of these happens to be our environmental affairs minister. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know her name. It’s only because she’s not overtly a part of the state capture brigade. She’s one of the other termites. Edna Molewa is there to think slowly, act slowly and take decisions based on how she’s feeling that day.
She’s keen on selling our rhino horn stockpile, has granted emissions compliance exemptions to dozens of companies, including Eskom, and, in her previous portfolio, blamed wet coal for the electricity blackouts which, as we now know, was caused by the Guptas. My fear is that in Cyril’s rush to get rid of the rapacious termites, he will overlook bumbling imbeciles like Edna.
In terms of importance, the government ranks environmental affairs down there with sport and recreation. Edna seems to think it’s lame to protect stuff like animals and the climate. Take lions, for instance. I’ve never met Edna but from what I have read it seems unlikely she’s a cat person.
Members of the Arizona-based Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club are also not cat people. They are not even animal people, unless by animal people you mean people who pay money to murder animals just for the hell of it. And yet both organisations recently condemned the hunting of captive-bred lions, something they had no problem with for years. I don’t know why the sudden change of attitude. A lot of states are legalising weed these days. Maybe they were high.
The SCI banned the marketing of canned lion hunts through the organisation and notified its hunters and clients that trophies from captive-bred lion hunts would be ineligible for the club’s macabre Record Book which lists members who have killed the biggest/smallest/most species.
The equally bloodthirsty Dallas Safari Club said there was no evidence that captive-bred lion hunting contributed to the conservation of wild lions. So there it is. Even Donald Trump’s people think it’s wrong. Not our Edna, though.
“A barbaric and morally repugnant relic of colonialism that is out of step with 21st century forward thinking.” No, former Australian minister Greg Hunt wasn’t describing Helen Zille. He was talking about canned lion hunting.
Confronted with a global backlash against the practice of domesticating lions, then shooting them in the face when they come up to you for a cuddle, our Edna gave it some thought. Her mouth fell open and her eyes rolled into the back of her head. A passing tick bird landed on her nose and gave her teeth a quick clean. Her think over, she decided that all lions were fair game and it didn’t really matter that their bones were being sold to criminal networks in Asia.
Responding to questions from Durban-based journalist Simon Bloch, Edna’s spokesman Albi Modise said the department had no intention of stopping hunters from shooting tame lions at close range.
“In light of the fact that South Africa has legislative protection in place for endangered and threatened species and subscribes to the principles of sustainable utilisation of natural resources, there is no reason to prohibit the breeding of lions in captivity for hunting purposes,” he said.
And while our caged lions might be safe from American hunters, there’s a whole new bunch of good old boys with big guns and tiny willies waiting in the wings. They’re going to be coming from Russia, China and Eastern Europe. At least the Americans were only doing it so they could hang a head on their wall. These guys are going to want to eat their kill. Wash it down with a Lion lager.
The Free State is a haven for the captive breeding of lions. Ace Magashule’s province. What a surprise. It was a vile province during apartheid and it’s not much better now. I think KwaZulu-Natal should invade and annex it without delay.
I also think the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa and the SA Predator Association should try to be less neanderthal about the issue. Be less blinded by greed and more open to conservation.
Now that we seem to have found our moral compass after nine lost years, perhaps President Ramaphosa could use it to help civil servants like Edna Molewa find their way out.
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