Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in turmoil after political interference
Durban – How did a 27 year-old ANC Youth League official and an army sports instructor – both with limited work skills and experience – end up as nature conservation directors of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife?
This is just one of the questions emerging after a new “temporary” board was set up to oversee the troubled nature conservation agency, amid a curious reluctance to publish the CVs of the new appointees.
Ezemvelo is the successor to the world-renowned Natal Parks Board that saved the southern white rhino from extinction, pioneered innovative wildlife capture techniques and helped to secure two of South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites.
After a series of controversies in recent years, several senior staff fear that Ezemvelo is sliding into further decline because of major funding cutbacks and leadership instability, while simultaneously battling an unprecedented rhino poaching onslaught in the flagship Hlhuhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
ANC Youth League spokesman and Ezemvelo nature conservation board member Thulisa Ndlela. Picture: Facebook
Ezemvelo has been plagued by leadership problems, mounting salary costs, labour unrest and a government task team report in 2014 that led to the suspension of former CEO Bandile Mkhize.
The report brought to light massive pay hikes for several senior executives at a time when Ezemvelo barely had enough money to pay two-thirds of the staff, as well as claims that Mkhize rewarded his “friends” in Ezemvelo with salary grade hikes.
Calling for disciplinary action against Mkhize, the task team also questioned whether certain board members “had the necessary qualities to act in the best interest of the organisation”.
Criminal charges are also still pending against Ezemvelo for the conservation agency’s role in ripping up and draining a protected wetland in northern KZN in 2014 under the guise of an “alien plant eradication project”.
It is understood that provincial Treasury auditors raised concerns that at least two new board members may not be suitably experienced to direct the affairs of a State-owned entity with a multi-million rand budget – although this has been denied by the new Ezemvelo board chairman, Zwile Zulu.
Thulisa Ndlela and Sipho Maxwell Mtolo were appointed to the board earlier this year by provincial Environmental Affairs MEC, Sihle Zikalala, who also chairs the ANC in KZN.
Mtolo began his military career in uMkhonto we Sizwe in the early 1990s, before becoming an infantryman, PT instructor and sports officer in the SANDF. Now he runs a construction company that recently won a joint tender to repair the roof of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s royal palaces.
His more youthful colleague, Ndlela, is regional spokesman for the ANC Youth League (eThekwini region). While he studied international relations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, his work experience appears limited to brief stints as a library assistant and programme officer for a civil society group.
In a newspaper advert late last year, Zikalala invited nominations for new board members to be submitted to his departmental ministry head Kwazi Mshengu, who is also provincial chairman of the ANC Youth League and wants the eThekwini municipality to allocate R1 billion a year towards a new “youth development unit” in Durban.