FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2011 file photo, customs officers stand near seized rhino horns at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in Hong Kong when the Customs seized a total of 33 unmanifested rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17 million (US$2.23 million), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. The Switzerland-based conservation group WWF said in a report Monday, July 23, 2012 that Vietnam is “the major destination” for rhino horns trafficked from South Africa. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

Cape Town

– South Africa stands to make hundreds of millions of rand if it is allowed to sell its 21 tons of stockpiled rhino horn – but the move may stimulate the international demand for rhino horn and make policing of the legal and illegal trades a nightmare.

Now South Africans are being given the chance to have their say on the matter.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said while the government subscribed to the sustainable use of wildlife, it had not yet taken a decision on whether to trade rhino horn. It would do so by April next year.

To assist the government, Molewa has appointed a committee of inquiry to examine the pros and cons of selling the country’s stockpiled rhino horn and to make recommendations.

She announced the names of 21 people who have been selected to sit on the committee from “a cross-section of stakeholders” in the government and the private sector. All had been vetted by the State Security Agency.

Molewa said the process of deciding whether or not to trade was not a government decision only.

“We invite organisations and individuals to make submissions. We are waiting to hear from you,” Molewa said.

She warned that the government would not be swayed by vested interests in either camp.

If the government decided to trade, it would have to table a motion by April next year, asking the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) for permission to sell rhino horn.

Cites is to hold its next meeting in South Africa in October 2016.

All proposals have to be tabled with the secretariat six months before.

The committee’s terms of reference are to investigate and evaluate issues in three areas: the assessment of current measures to tackle poaching and the illegal trade; to identify new measures; and to examine the pros and cons of trade in rhino horn.

The minister has also appointed a technical advisory committee of all the directors-general of the departments in the interministerial committee on rhino poaching, to “ensure technical and strategic matters” were properly addressed.

Last year, 1 215 rhinos were killed in South Africa, compared to 13 in 2007 – an increase of 9 300 percent in seven years.

The committee is chaired by Nana Magomola.

Cape Times