The Anti-Violence Approach
By Jess Faber
When I first heard we were going to meet the Black Mambas I had no idea what to expect. Truthfully, my only previous knowledge of them was that they are an Anti-poaching unit. It wasn’t until after meeting them and learning of the cultural values of the community, that I was able to really understand how they are successful and how they differed from other anti-poaching units.
For those that don’t know about the Black Mambas, they are an anti-poaching unit made up of women in the Balule Nature Reserve of the Greater Kruger National Park. Their objective is not only to protect rhinos through patrolling the area but also by being role models in their communities. What sets them apart from other units is that they follow a non-violence policy. These women are seeking out dangerous poachers completely unarmed. There is no question that they are brave, they put themselves in harms way everytime they go on patrol. I became ecstatic when I learned that we would be meeting them.
We had the privilege of visiting Balule and listening to a couple of them talk. I was not expecting what I saw when the soldiers first walked out. They were completely normal looking girls, and not the typical soldiers one would expect. They had styled hair, some even had pink braids. Without their army uniforms they were women you would expect to find walking our own streets.
Getting to meet these fearless women and listening to them speak about their passion for conservation and even success in their field was an experience I think none of us will forget. But there was still a piece of the story was missing for me. I knew what they were doing, but I still didn’t understand how they were doing it and why it was working.
It wasn’t until several days after when I had a discussion with our tour guide, and now friend, Nkosinothi, that I clearly understood how these unarmed women are more successful than the armed anti-poaching units. Being a South African native, Nkosinothi shared the cultural views of women and their influence.
The way Nkosinothi explained the cultural intricacy that most of the men doing the poaching don’t want to be doing it. To them this is the only way to make money to support and feed their wife and children. For the most part they are just normal villagers who are desperate for livelihood. People know that poaching is illegal and they shouldn’t be out there doing it. So they are scared of being seen. That’s the reason poachers go out at night when there’s less light and chances of being seen. Almost every single poacher caught is found carrying some sort of traditional medicine relating to invisibility. The most common one is called the Plumago; poachers believe that this is a magical plant and that carrying a bag of this allows them to become invisible to the rangers.
Nkosinothi also explained that women in South Africa are the head of the household and are well respected. It’s easy to kill someone coming at you with a gun because of the shoot-on-sight policy, the poachers want to go home to their families as well. However, no one wants to reap the consequences of killing a beautiful woman, as it will get you shunned or worse in your community if it is found out you killed a woman. So, when that beautiful and innocently unarmed woman walks out and catches a poacher in the act of something they already know is wrong, it catches them off guard. The common reaction is to drop their guns and run the other way before the Black Mamba can radio in for backup.
You can kill as many poachers as you want, but they will never stop coming. There will always be more poor, desperate men trying to feed their families. What happens to the families of those men if they are shot on sight? The Black Mambas may not be eliminating the poachers but they are stopping them from killing and being killed. And they’re preventing those families of being orphans, as that only creates a cyclical cycle of poverty in the community.