The rhino-poaching crisis in South Africa raises questions about whether it should
be tackled through judicial processes or by the application of hard-power methods.
The poaching of wildlife has traditionally been met with a harsh response to send
a clear message of punitive deterrence. While the reaction of the South African
authorities has been no different, the contemporary threat posed by poaching intersects
with, and is complicated by, wider concerns such as border security and immigration.
In many respects, this has led to what can be termed the ‘rhinofication’ of
South African security. South Africa has a long political tradition that relies on
force rather than dialogue, negotiation and reform. Yet, the hard-power response
to protect the rhino and other large fauna, though necessary at one level, often
runs up against the economic frustrations and temptations of a large, predominantly
black, under-class, which for generations has been excluded from wildlife management
and conservation by white ‘exceptionalism’. Poachers are thus transformed
through their counter-cultural actions into what Eric Hobsbawm termed ‘social
bandits’. While this social chasm lies at the heart of the ‘rhino wars’, it is clear that
in practical terms the lack of a political/poaching settlement in the form of a racially
inclusive conservation strategy almost certainly guarantees their continuation.