BETTY’S BAY – We have come to accept poaching along our coastline as almost normal, part of everyday life. Very few of us have not run across them. In fact, on most fair weather days you will find bakkie or car loads of poachers at their favourite diving spots dotted along the Hangklip/Kleinmond coastline, openly going about their business.
Over time the multi-million rand poaching business and our national government’s lacklustre response to it has settled into an almost comfortable pattern. The poachers know that they are home free as long as they are not caught with the perlemoen in their possession. The authorities, mostly CapeNature officials and Department of Fisheries inspectors, backed up by municipal law enforcers these days, put on a brave face and try to stem the tide. Now and then they are lucky. For the most part the poachers win the cat and mouse game.
Corruption has become endemic in particularly the Department of Fisheries. In 2018 nine DEFF officials stationed at Gansbaai were arrested for corruption. The former head of the DEFF office in Kleinmond is currently the subject of a HAWKS investigation into alleged corruption. We understand that he has resigned from DEFF and has apparently joined another government department.
The poachers have developed an elaborate and quite efficient system of avoiding the authorities. Their first line of defense are the corrupt officials, whose job it is to inform the poachers of any impending actions against them. Then there are the lookouts. The other method they use is dividing the workload. The divers leave the perlemoen at a designated point while carriers move the product to a point where designated drivers pick it up and transport it to Over Hills in Kleinmond and other locations. All neatly compartementalised and making it more more difficult to prosecute the poaching gangs effectively. Over Hills has become a depot for illegal perlemoen and is basically a no-go area for DEFF and CapeNature officials. It is truly pathetic that the authorities have allowed this to happen.
What exactly happens after the perlemoen arrives in Over Hills is the interesting part, and of which we know very little. We know there are different poaching groups spread across Proteadorp and Over Hills, but it appears as though they (at least some of the time) work together at this level. At some point the divers, carriers, drivers and corrupt officials have to be paid. We believe Over Hills is the base of operations for this. How does it work?
Well for starters the Kleinmond operation is quite sleek and effective compared with other towns in the region. We suspect there is a central paymaster in Over Hills who acts as a conduit between local poaching groups and the people who ultimately export the abalone. This does not mean there are not other buyers in the Hangklip/Kleinmond region. There probably are. We also know that there are strong links between the poachers and the gangs in Hawston. They definitely operate under the protection of the gangs. Nobody seems to have a clue who is financing the Kleinmond operation.
The paymaster is the guy who keeps the wheels oiled and sees to it that everybody is paid and kept happy. No small job, believe me. I should think it is simple market forces at play. The paymaster pays a going rate (size and weight is important) and then sells it on. There is considerable risk involved for the paymaster. Remember he has paid for the goods. He now has it in his possession and has to get it to his buyer, probably somewhere in Cape Town. For this risk he obviously gets paid a premium. It’s probably good money but still small potatoes compared to what the guys at the end of the value chain make.
This leads to another interesting question. How does the perlemoen get to the buyer in Cape Town or wherever, before it is exported? There are obviously at times reasonably large amounts of perlemoen involved. There are regular roadblocks and particularly the municipal law enforcers are all over the place. How do the poachers manage to give everybody the slip? The only logical answer is that the perlemoen has to be stored somewhere, probably in freezers in Over Hills or elsewhere in Kleinmond. It is then at some or other stage transported to its final destination. The question again is how? You often hear of large shipments of perlemoen from Gansbaai, Buffelsjag and other places being confiscated, but I have never in the past ten years heard of a large shipment from Kleinmond or en route from Kleinmond being confiscated. I would venture that the paymaster has probably found an ingenious and safe way to transport the perlemoen out of the area. One that the authorities clearly haven’t been able to figure out.