Samantha Sithole, Masters in Development Studies, University of Cape Town
Rampant rhino poaching has led to worldwide hysteria about the species’ potential extinction as a result of this continued practice. Although the rhino horn is in high demand on the black markets of Asian countries such as Vietnam, China and Taiwan, the fight to save the rhino is staged in South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP) in what has been labelled the ‘war for conservation by conservation.’ As a result, environmental groups alongside international organisations have advocated for an immediate and effective approach to save the rhino through the eradication of poaching . The measures employed however, have seen the South African government deploy the military and trained park rangers to monitor the KNP in what Bram Buscher has referred to as ‘the Fortress Kruger’. Even though this tactic - coined ‘Green Militarization’  - has come under scrutiny owing to reported human rights abuses within and outside the park, it is supported by several environmental groups who see it as a necessary and effective method.
Although there have been attempts by SANParks to integrate communities with conservation and natural resources, militarization has instead resulted in their alienation due to the violent and coercive nature of anti-poaching efforts. Those who previously had access to small game meat from the park, such as warthog and impala, have been relegated to purchasing frozen meat from supermarkets. These supermarkets are usually far from their places of residence. The presence of the armed and military personnel has caused fear amongst cattle herders who are anxious of being perceived as poachers and therefore targets, in the event they venture too close to the Park fences. An incident occurred in Cork Village in September 2016 when armed rangers opened fire and killed a man, who was part of a group fishing in the Sabi River near the Park fence. There have also been numerous reports by residents in the area who have complained of harassment from ‘men in black combat gear’, who they call the ‘Secret Police’. These men constantly search these residents’ properties, demanding identification and physically abusing those who resist their orders.
In the village of Justicia, the residents claim that the Sabi Sand Game Reserve is fighting to save the rhino at the cost of the villagers’ peace. Those who own successful small businesses are perceived to be taking part in corrupt activities alongside the officials of the game reserve and are thus constantly questioned on their sources of income. One businessman reported having his home ransacked when officials received an anonymous tip that he was involved in poaching. Such actions have resulted in mistrust between neighbours as well as employees of the game reserve itself who are subjected to intimidation and lie detector tests, of which failure or inconclusive results, ends up with them losing their jobs or being wrongly accused and arrested. Efforts by the community to raise awareness concerning these methods, have been dismissed as they have been seen to be a rejection of the ideals of conservation. The communities thus feel powerless against powerful institutions like SANParks and private reserves like Sabi Sand.
The experiences of the residents in these communities illustrates the asymmetrical relationship that remains between the Kruger National Park and indigenous communities. Militarization has not only resulted in a war within the Kruger, between rangers and poachers, but has also established restricted spaces within villages that are perceived to house poachers. Owing to the implementation of conservation methods from the apartheid era, communities’ efforts to engage with the environment have dwindled.
 Büscher, B, 2016. Reassessing Fortress Conservation: New Media and the Politics of Distinction in Kruger National Park. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
 Lunstrum, E. 2014. Green Militarization: Anti-Poaching Efforts and the Spatial Contours of Kruger National Park. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 104 (4): pp 816-832.