In some cases the law may indeed be an ass, but when it comes to the scandal of a rhino syndicate accused being granted permits to hunt rhino, it is those who fail to properly apply the law who are the asses.

In this case the asses reside in the Limpopo department of the environment, who have managed in their lack of wisdom to find no reason to turn down multiple applications from Dawie Groenewald to continue trading in rhino whilst facing a raft of serious charges involving his alleged involvement in a rhino syndicate.

Groenewald and his co-accused face trial at a time when the nation is outraged by the onslaught criminal gangs and poachers are waging on the country’s rhino population. In the first six months of this year, South Africa lost at least 193 rhino to poaching, in addition to the record 333 known to have been poached last year. On top of these appalling figures are the unknown numbers legally bought, thanks to the help of people such as the Limpopo bureaucrats, and then illegally slaughtered so their horns can be sold into the apparently insatiable Asian market.

Much was made of the police swoop on Groenewald and his co-accused last year. They face charges including contravention of the National Environmental Biodiversity Act, malicious damage to property, the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and fraud. They are, of course, innocent unless proven otherwise, but the granting of licences to Groenewald to continue hunting, transporting and buying rhino while awaiting trial is, at the very least, a case of officials blindly applying their reading of the law.

Groenewald has, since the beginning of the year, been given permits that allow him to hunt a dozen white rhino and he has been negotiating to buy a further nine for his farm. Officials say their hands are tied as he has not been found guilty, while wildlife experts point out that the charges he faces give ample reason for denying him licences.

These permits are an affront to the battle to save South Africa’s rhinos and must be revoked.