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Friday, 06 January 2017 10:24

The TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE -TGA - President's report

The TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE -TGA - (FIRST YEAR OF EXISTENCE)

PRESIDENT’S REPORT - 2016

(Revised Version)

The TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE became an entity on 27th February 2016, when its three founding members - Ron Thomson, Ian Withers and Franz Fischer - officially signed its constitution at a meeting held in the board room of the Knysna Elephant Park in South Africa.  The rest of the year was taken up with registering the TGA as a non-profit organisation (NPO) with the Department of Social Development, and preparing the documentation that would allow us to open up a TGA bank account. In a nutshell, it took nine months to get our NPO status and another 10 weeks to receive our certificate of registration (which was an essential document without which the bank was unable to open up a TGA account). The bank account was finally registered late in December, 2016 - which opened the way for us to begin soliciting memberships and accepting donations.  It was a long, hard and very frustrating uphill battle the brunt of which was carried by our lawyer and acting-CEO, Franz Fischer.  It was, however, a debilitating and frustrating experience for all of us.

We went into January 2017, however, with all our legal bases covered and our foundations well laid.  At this juncture I have to make mention of the constant background support and vital encouragement contributed by Lisette Withers - Ian’s wife.  Her contribution kept us all focussed on the TGA’s raison d’être.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

I wish now to record - for posterity - some of the facts and motivations that brought this important NGO into existence.  It is truly an historical event.

Some 30 odd years ago - when I was fresh in South Africa as a result of my enforced emigration from post-war Zimbabwe where I had served, for 24 years, in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management - I first became truly conscious of a phenomenon called the “animal rights movement”.  This was a very strange experience for me because, for the previous 25 years, I had been blissfully unaware of the realities of its existence or of the very real threats that it posed to common sense science-based wildlife management. It did not take me long to understand that if something was not done to curb its ever growing influence over South African society, the animal rights menace would destroy everything that I believed in, and everything I had worked for, all my life.

In the 1980s, I first began agitating for South African hunters and game ranchers to recognise the dangers of animal rightsism to the then budding wildlife industry.  I attended the CITES meeting in Ottawa (Canada) in 1987; And the CITES meeting in Lausanne (Switzerland) in 1989 - when, at both conventions, I bashed heads with people like Alan Thornton and Dave Curry (of the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency), and I had a serious altercation with a paranoid Sue Liebermann when she was an executive of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  This happened inside the HSUS office building in downtown Washington D.C.  And I had similar experiences with many other rabid animal rightists.  It was at the Lausanne convention in 1989 that I met, and became a life-long friend of, Eugene Lapointe, then Secretary General of CITES.  And so my understanding of the animal rights movement, and the danger they pose to everything that I believe in, began.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the people involved in developing the then embryonic South African wildlife industry - hunters and game ranchers - were so engrossed in their own developmental programmes, that they paid scant attention to my concerns.  They considered that animal rightists were just a bunch of crazy fools who would disappear if they were ignored.  So it was, therefore, that the whole of South Africa put their heads in the sand, like a bunch of ostriches, hoping that when they lifted their heads up high again, the animal rights menace would have gone away.  That didn’t happen.  When they removed their heads from the sand they discovered that the animal rightists were stronger than ever.

By ignoring the reality of animal rightsism, South Africa’s hunters and game ranchers actually gave the animal rightists an open field on which to play - without opposition; and they used that opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of societies throughout southern Africa.  And that situation persisted until the beginning of 2016.  That was when the TGA came into being and the foundations were laid for a properly organised opposition team – representing hunters and game ranchers throughout southern Africa, and nature-lovers everywhere, who understand and accept the wisdom of sustainably using our living resources (domestic and wild) for the benefit of mankind.

Seven years ago I moved from Hartbeespoort in the North West Province to Bushman’s River Mouth in the Eastern Cape; and here I established an ever more successful writing and publishing business that represents my pension.  I do not get a pension from Zimbabwe – despite my long government service in that country!  So my writing business - focussed on my big game hunting memoirs - became my vital livelihood.  I also write two articles - regular columns - for the African Outfitter magazine (of which I am also a sub-editor); and I have (at their request) begun writing (TGA-type articles) for the NRA (American National Rifle Association) in their column, the ‘Hunter-Leadership Forum.’  Throughout all the time of my literary apprenticeship, I have relentlessly pursued my belief that South Africa (and the world) needs to create an organisation - an NGO - that will fight the animal rightists AND WIN!

Just over two years ago - when I was freshly 75 years old - I persuaded Tommy Fraser, a bright young and energetic hunter and game rancher based in Gauteng - to take over the baton and try to get the TGA up-and-running.  He had good connections with the game ranchers and with the upper echelons of the hunting industry.  I did this because I felt that I was getting a bit long in the tooth and because I believed, for the TGA to succeed, a young man with a lot of passion and energy needed to take over the reins.

The fact that I was now living in the Eastern Cape, far from the hustle and bustle that had come to characterise the ever more successful wildlife industry, was another reason why I needed help.  I threw Tommy in at the deep end; and with all the best will in the world, he was unable to cope in the manner that I had envisaged.  Nevertheless, he broke the ice and succeeded in getting the idea of a TGA rooted within the wildlife industry’s psyche.  I noticed, however, that senior members of the industry were having an inordinate degree of influence in the shaping of the TGA.  I disapproved.

Hunter associations, for example, liked the concept of the TGA but they did not want to entertain the “alliance” part of it. They wanted the TGA to be their sole prerogative. They had no wish to embrace other associations within their territorial bailiwicks.  So the “True Green Alliance” became simply “True Green” – and the prerogative of a single hunting association.  The “alliance” part of the title was dropped.  And no one seemed to understand that it was the “alliance” part of the programme that would give the TGA its strength. 

I became despondent and in January 2016 I quite literally ‘threw in the towel’.  I prepared to distance myself from the manner in which the TGA was developing within the wildlife industry – and I determined to stop wasting my energies on a project that was beyond my capacity to control (because of my age - at time of writing, 77 - and my distance from the boiling pot).  And I prepared myself, mentally, to concentrate on my writing and to expand my horizons within the literary world. 

What I missed when wallowing in this dismal attitude towards a failing TGA, however, was the fact that age and experience totally subjugates the benefits that I expected would come from youth, from new and modern ideas, and from testosterone energies.  Long years of experience and hands-on practice, had given me a confidence - with great depth and breadth - which few young people possess when they begin life’s adult adventures.  And I had retained my passion for the TGA enterprise - a passion that had been my constant companion for years.

Ian and Lisette Withers were horrified.  They immediately commanded me to “go pick up my towel” and they told me that they would help me get the TGA “up-and-running” in the manner I had envisaged.  Franz Fischer - Ian and Lisette’s lawyer - was co-opted because of his legal expertise. He, Ian and I then signed the legal constitution that had been drawn up by Franz, and by the end of February the TGA had become a legal entity. Tommy then relinquished control of the TGA back to me, and he has become a strong and consistent supporter of what we are now achieving.  He is looking forward to becoming a board member in the near future.

At the founding meeting on 27th February, 2016, with everyone’s approval, Franz was elected acting-CEO - because it was envisaged that, for the rest of 2016, he was going to be deeply involved with legal matters associated with the registration of the TGA as a Non-Profit Organisation (NPO); and with the opening of a TGA bank account.  At that meeting, I accepted the position of acting-President and Ian (the third founding board member) functioned as Chairman of the Board. 

I made it plain at this founding board meeting that I could not operate in a full time position for the TGA except in the capacity of its CEO; and unless I was paid a liveable wage. Because I had abandoned my writing career to pursue the TGA agenda, my means of earning a living was then in jeopardy!  I was advised (by Ian) that adjustments would be made to the board appointments at the “inaugural” meeting of the board - which would take place immediately following the TGA’s successful registration as an NPO.   At that meeting, I was told, I would be offered a five year contract to operate as the TGA’s CEO; and that I would then be eligible for a liveable wage.  

It was calculated that the NPO registration would probably take two weeks; two months; maybe a bit more.  In reality, nobody really knew how long it would take.  The process actually dragged on for five months (?); and it took another 10 weeks (?) to obtain the actual registration certificate. The bank account was opened just before Christmas in December 2016. So the whole process took the better part of 10 months.

Several unofficial board meetings were held during the year, most of which were attended by myself; Franz Fisher; Ian Withers; Lisette Withers; Dave McRae (who agreed to act as our administration officer); Elma Britz (who took on the responsibility of recording the minutes); and Harold and Karen Hobson (who acted in the capacity of unofficial members).

After the February 27th meeting, I threw my all into promoting the TGA within southern Africa’s wildlife industries; and within the public domain.  My articles in the African Outfitter magazine took on a strong TGA emphasis; The African Outfitter published a full page public notification about the creation of the TGA; and I completed my latest book – “ELEPHANT ‘CONSERVATION’ – The Facts and The Fiction” - the latter several chapters of which I contrived should provide readers with a full justification for the TGA.  I have distributed probably 100 of these books - free of charge - to various people and institutions that I believe might be interested in joining, or donating to, the TGA.

For use at the four-day-long HUNTEX show in mid-Rand in April (which records some 50 000 visitors every year), Tommy Frazer had printed, and he donated, 15 000 coloured pamphlets designed to attract, and to record the particulars of, prospective new TGA members in the visitor throng.  This is a handsome donation that the TGA Board of Directors gratefully acknowledges.  There are enough “left over” forms to satisfy our needs for several HUNTEX Shows in the years ahead.

Adriaan Woudstra - the owner and general manager of the annual HUNTEX show programme – has donated a table for use by our TGA ‘membership’ team at all future Gallagher Estate HUNTEX shows. This is another generous donation that the board gratefully acknowledges. 

Hennie van der Walt, the new editor of the Wild & Jag magazine - who succeeded his recently late and very popular father, Oom Jan van der Walt - was persuaded by Tommy Fraser (his long time friend) to make available to the TGA a full page in this very popular and glossy South African game ranching and hunting magazine, for TGA’s exclusive use, for every one of the 12 issues of the magazine in 2017. This is a huge and very welcome donation.  All thanks to Tommy Fraser for organising it; and to Hennie van der Walt for allowing himself to succumb to Tommy’s charms.    

In April Elma Britz donated - and we hosted together - a business breakfast at the Pretoria Country Club, to which leading members of the wildlife industry were invited after the Huntex Show (at very short notice).  Those attending included Stan Burger (President - Professional Hunters Association of South Africa); Wiaan van der Linde (President - Wildlife Ranching South Africa); Fred Camphor (CEO - South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association of South Africa - SAHGCA); Andre van der Merwe (Manager, Branch and Shooting  matters - SAHGCA);  Neels Geldenhuys (Chief Editor, African Outfitter magazine);  Yolande van der Merwe (Advertising and Marketing Officer - African Outfitter magazine); and Magda Naude, (TGA’s Press Liaison Officer).  I gave a short presentation - explaining what the TGA is all about – and everybody unanimously pledged their support for the TGA (once it is up and running).  The general viewpoint was that the TGA should have been brought into operation “a long time ago”.

Elma Britz - who now lives with me at Bushman’s River Mouth - and I, hosted Stephen Palos, Chairman of CHASA (The Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa) at Bushman’s - for a night and a day - during which time we talked “TGA” and hunting.  He approves of the TGA’s existence, purpose and programme, and he pledged to encourage CHASA members to join the TGA.

Sometime mid-year, Elma and I hosted Gustav Venter and his wife, Erna, representing the South African Predator Association (SAPA), at Bushman’s River Mouth. They visited with us for a whole day and we spent our time discussing the TGA and SAPA whilst enjoying a braai lunch.  We covered a multitude of ideas and arguments pertinent to the canned lion hunting controversy and the TGA’s policy towards it.  When I explained that our official board policy forbids us to openly support canned lion hunting - and that it also forbids us to denigrate the practice - Gustav looked perplexed. Then I explained. The TGA Board of Directors, I told him, had specifically undertaken not to interfere in the wildlife industry’s domestic affairs; and because canned lion hunting was already being addressed in healthy and progressive wildlife industry forums, we believed this was the best place for the controversy to be resolved. We had, anyway, enough to do fighting the wildlife industry’s “common enemy” - the animal rightists - without getting ourselves involved in matters beyond that mandate.  I expressed my confidence, however, that a solution would be found through the processes of current responsible dialogue. Despite not gaining our open support for canned lion hunting, Gustav advised me that SAPA would still support the TGA – if only because our purpose was to “fight the common enemy”. The SAPA president, Prof. Pieter Potgieter, confirmed this commitment during a telephonic conversation that I had with him on the occasion of Gustav’s visit.

Throughout the year I have been in telephonic and email communication with an old friend - the President of the National Hunting and Shooting Association - Dr Herman (Krappies) Els. He approves the TGA’s vision and mission and has pledged to encourage his association’s 17 000 members to join TGA, too.  I met him later, at an HAWASA meeting in April, and he verbally confirmed NHSA’s commitment.

We were also invited - by special invitation - to address the Southwell Farming community (near Kenton-on-Sea).  I was advised that the local farmers were often abused by animal rightists who disapproved of their animal farming practices. The idea of the TGA, therefore, was very favourably received. This is the first time our tentacles have reached into agriculture – but I believe this probe could develop into a very important facet of the TGA’s affairs.  I shall keep my finger on this pulse!

In mid September I was invited by Zimbabwe’s Minister of the Environment to address a government conference she had set up, called: THE ROAD TO CITES.  I delivered a prepared talk to this conference - which was also addressed by Zimbabwe’s Vice President (The right honourable Emerson Mnangagwa).  Both dignitaries received a copy of my new book.  Among other things, during my talk, I questioned why African countries believed they should continue with their membership of CITES when the convention – at every subsequent Conference of the Parties - only brought them more and more grief. I pulled no punches and the delegates to the conference gave me several ovations – one a standing ovation, with much clapping, at the end.  The minister called me over, immediately upon the closure of my talk, and she asked me if I would be prepared to offer my services as “an advisor” to the Zimbabwe delegation at the, then, upcoming convention. This was an undertaking which I later fulfilled. 

I successfully enrolled the TGA as an accredited NGO at CITES-CoP17 in September/October.  The ten-day long function took place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.   3500 delegates attended.  As expected, the animal rights NGOs dominated the proceedings and ‘the plenary sessions’ were so ‘full of people’, it was difficult for anyone to get a word in edgeways.  IFAW – The International Fund for Animal Welfare (arguably the biggest animal ‘rights’ organisation the world, with an annual income said to be well in excess of US$ 200 million) funded 38 of its own delegates. Nevertheless, the TGA with its single candidate (me), made several good impressions during the question-and-answer sessions after many of the side-events conducted by different organisations and countries. 

Inter alia, on behalf of PHASA, I conducted an hour-long side event (talk) at the convention entitled “The Elephants of Africa and CITES” in which I outlined, inter alia, the reasons why the “endangered species concept” is a fallacy; and I explained the real situation relative to the management of elephants (which is impossible at the ‘species level’). I then explained that the management of elephants is ONLY possible at the ‘population level.’  I also pointed out that far from facing extinction - as the animal rightists have been telling the world - ALL major elephant populations south of the Cunene and Zambezi Rivers in southern Africa are “excessive”.  THAT means there are far too many elephants for the habitats to support. These elephant numbers, therefore, are totally unsustainable and they will one day crash (when their food runs out).  In the meantime they are causing huge damage to the habitats and to the biological diversities of the national parks that support them.  And I explained that the FIRST management application for these excessive elephant populations should be that their numbers be reduced by half – and thereafter by a whole lot more.  

I pointed out that the primary purpose of a national park is to maintain and to protect the park’s biological diversity.  It is NOT to allow the uncontrolled proliferation of elephants.  I believe that this little sideshow (and my one-on-one discussions with many people throughout the period of the convention) contributed, in some considerable measure, to the defeat of the animal rightists’ motion to have the African elephant, as a species, placed on the CITES Appendix 1 list (which demands unreserved FULL protection from all harm). 

During this session I also commented that:

  • CITES had done NOTHING for Africa during the 41 years of its existence;
  • All that African countries had ever been confronted with at CITES, were obstacles to their desire to apply “best practice” wildlife management programmes;
  • That Africa would serve its long term wildlife interests best if the countries of Africa were to resign from the convention.
  • That CITES is treating Africa’s wildlife as though it is an international “commons resource” the management of which everyone in creation believes he (or she) has the right to interfere with. But Africa’s wildlife is NOT a “commons resource” at all. It is a product-of-the-land that is owned by every African nation that hosts these animals.  Wild animals are national assets that every sovereign state in Africa has the right to manage, to harvest, to utilise, and to market in any way that it sees fit – except for the fact that the countries of Africa are members of CITES and they have agreed to abide by the convention’s decisions. The fact that Africa’s wild animals actually belong to Africa, however, is totally ignored by CITES - which applies ever stricter restrictions on Africa’s utilisation of its own wild animals.  Regrettably, this fact is also being submissively ignored by many of the African states, themselves - who, sadly, simply comply with the CITES demands that are made upon them.
  • What member of a social club would continue being a member, if after 40 years, the club never delivered on its promises? In 1975 CITES promised its sovereign state members that it would REGULATE the legal international wildlife trade; and that it would STOP the illegal trade.  It has done neither.  And now that they control CITES so tightly, the animal rightists are changing the convention’s purpose from being one that REGULATES the wildlife trade into one that PROHIBITS it.

This year many African states voiced their desire to remove themselves from the CITES “club” - to resign. This idea, apparently, was not met with kindly by the American administration which then - from several reports coming from both before and during the recent CITES convention - bandied about a piece of American legislation called “The Pelly Amendment”. 

Extract from the Pelly Amendment document: “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service utilizes the Pelly Amendment when ‘negotiating’ with other Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on the listing of certain species.”  In other words - according to several African states - the Americans used the Pelly Amendment in 2016 as a coercive lever to force African countries to do as they are told; or else to suffer the consequences of American aid and/or preferential trade withdrawals - which state of affairs, by definition, is an act of terrorism.  

The interpretation given to this piece of American legislation – restructured by the African states who were contemplating resigning from CITES - was that America can legally apply punitive financial, trade and ‘other’ sanctions on any country that (quite simply) works against “American wishes”; and America does not wish for CITES to disintegrate because African states resign!

Before CITES Cop-17 several African countries got together in Africa to discuss the benefits and/or the liabilities of resigning from CITES - vis-a-vis the Pelly Amendment.  They concluded that if America withdrew financial assistance to a country that resigned from CITES, that country would – financially – greatly lose more than it would gain by resigning.  So this group of countries - who had all been previously and vehemently determined to resign - changed their minds.  Thus, is the First World keeping a tight and coercive rein on the countries and people of Africa.  And Africa’s wildlife has become America’s disposable pawn. 

These are all animal rights fomented circumstances that the TGA needs to address – one way or another.  Because TGA is committed to destroying the credibility of the animal rights brigade, and because CITES is the biggest weapon that has ever been placed in their hands, TGA has no option but to engage with CITES - AND with the American administration for the same reasons - in all these matters.

The TGA networked with many people at CITES.  On their own volition, delegates from China, the United States and Canada were so impressed with the TGA vision and mission statements, they declared their desire to open up TGA offices in their own countries.  How we are going engage with these people – to enable such a thing to happen – I have (at this moment in time) no idea.  But we MUST!

I had a great deal of time to discuss the modern CITES with my good friend Eugene Lapointe – a former secretary general of CITES.  Eugene, from the very beginning of CoP17, was very defensive of his old alma mater – but I worked away at his almost blind support for it.  In the end common sense prevailed.  I stated my belief, openly, that CITES had “shot its bolt”.  It was now more injurious to Africa’s wildlife than it was beneficial.  And I suggested that we should euthanase the convention; and that we should encourage African states to resign - before CITES and America destroyed the whole continent.

My constant expressions of concern eventually paid off.  Following my side show event two days before the end of the convention, in front of the hundreds of delegates who were present - drinking and eating snacks – Eugene Lapointe called everyone’s attention because, he said, he had something important to say.  He told them that, at the beginning of CoP17, I had expressed the view that CITES was doing more harm than good to Africa and that it should be dissolved.  And he told them a whole lot more.  Then - out of the blue - he said:  “I disapproved of Ron’s attitude towards CITES and I tried to make him see reason.  But he remained adamant. I could not change his mind. Now...  now that CoP17 is nearly over, I would like to tell you all that Ron was, all the time, right and that I was wrong.  CITES is NOT doing any good for Africa, its people or its wildlife. I, too, now believe it is time for CITES to go!”

The following day Eugene Lapointe delivered an address to the giant and closing plenary session that echoed his words of the previous evening.  He told them where CITES was going wrong in no uncertain terms. Coming, as it did, from a previous and still very much respected CITES ex-secretary general, his opinions carried great weight.   I feel very proud of myself, and our emerging TGA, for the contribution that our one-man team made towards changing Eugene’s Lapointe’s opinion about CITES which, in my view, is now a totally dysfunctional organisation.

After CITES, Elma Britz and I attended an HAWASA (Hunting and Wildlife-Industry Associations of South Africa) meeting where we suggested that the TGA should become a member.  HAWASA is an umbrella organisation representing all the wildlife industries of South Africa.  It has great credibility with the Department of Environmental Affairs and it has direct access to the minister.  It is this latter association that interested me: “direct access to the minister”.  There are other ways of gaining direct access to the minister, however, and one that I have in mind may be an even better bet than joining HAWASA.  These ideas I am exploring.  I believe that, to succeed in many of its objectives, the TGA needs direct access to the minister.

Following the Hawasa meeting, at the invitation of the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), Stan Burger, I was one of several guest speakers at the PHASA AGM in November.  My subject was the TGA – our vision and our mission - and why it is necessary that PHASA, and all the other associations comprising South Africa’s wildlife industry, should support the TGA. There was unanimous agreement that PHASA should honour its previous (breakfast) commitment to support the TGA.

Then - upon a special invitation from the Safari Outfitters Association of Zimbabwe - Elma Britz and I visited Harare as their special guests at the beginning of December. Over a period of three days, I addressed:

  • The Professional Hunters Association of Zimbabwe;
  • The Safari Outfitters Association of Zimbabwe; and
  • The Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe.

The story on each occasion was the same: an introduction to the purpose of the TGA; and the reason why all hunting and nature-loving people should become members.  From these three associations we were assured of widespread support - once the TGA is “up and running”.

Two thousand and sixteen has now come to an end I can confidently say that every organisation comprising southern Africa’s wildlife industries knows about the TGA; understands its purpose; endorses our philosophy; will encourage their members to join us; and have pledged their financial support (when we are “up and running”).  And we have 1300 people on our database – all having expressed their desire to become TGA members.  So we look forward to the start of the New Year with great expectations and a lot of enthusiasm. 

And, with this encouraging state of affairs in place, I terminate my first year as a member of the TGA Board of Directors.

Ron Thomson (Acting President, TGA)

Bushman’s River Mouth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. 24 December 2016