The (Mr) X files.
Hunting in Africa takes many forms, but there is no sport in the world more exciting than hunting man. When this hunting is in the form of law enforcement to safeguard our wildlife heritage, it is not only exciting, but it is hunting for conservation. These undercover operations, like all dangerous game hunting, can be very unpredictable and often more dangerous than following a wounded leopard into a cave or facing down a charging buffalo.
"Nott, Graham Morley (6506) Attested: 09 October 1961. Last Rank: Section Officer Died: 16 July 2002 Place J. A Unknown, Zimbabwe", is die rather overly-concise entry on die In Memoriam page on the website of the British South Africa Police.
The Gordian Knot is a legend which is often used as a metaphor for solving a seemingly intractable problem, such as untying an "impossible" knot by thinking outside the box. It has been artfully selected as a chapter heading--"The Gordian Nod"--in Mike Bromwich's excellent book National Parks and Wildlife Management, Rhodesia and ZimbabM'e 1928-1990. Sadly for Graham--who was a friend--was never "one of the boys". He couldn't be. It's in The Rule Book, under "Them and Us". He was National Parks' first Chief Investigation Officer. And I don't believe anyone can begrudge any of the Dagga Boys, as the National Parks old boys are known, for dieir feelings in this vein. Something like Investigations Branch functions hi part hi much the same way as an American police internal affairs division--the "headhunters"--does. And they're not going to win any popularity contests among their brother officers, whom part of their job is to investigate. But, looking back on the carnage that has swept through Zimbabwean conservation areas in the two decades since Graham's retirement. I'd bet a case of cold beer that though they'd never admit it, more than one of them would be happy to see his like return today.
Of course, there's die whole (reverse) racial thing, which shouldn't need to come up at all but does. I experienced it probably most pointedly when I worked for the Nature Conservation Division in Bophuthatswana. And the funny thing was that it wasn't even ethnic racism, for the aggrieved parties I was "persecuting" where white, as was I. So I was perceived as "letting die side down" because I basically wasn't letting them do as they pleased. Most of it was blamed on the fact that I was a non-Afrikaans speaking uitlander, rather than it possibly having anything to do with the fact that I was doing the job I was paid to do.
There are a few things that a lot of folks don't see, or don't bother looking for. Firstly, there were problems with certain individuals and/or practices within the department that needed to be addressed when considering who was actually "letting the side down". (I am not referring to the infamous elephant export scandal--more on that later). Secondly, investigators consider this looking inwards as a complete waste of time and resources. Unlike their internal affairs counterparts, their job is not to catch their fellow officers but to tackle the poachers and wildlife traffickers from a covert angle. It's worth noting here that back in the day, when Investigations Branch was formed, the National Parks uniformed personnel had very efficient networks of informer sources and they managed their anti-poaching teams capably, and there was some concern that the new Branch would trample on their toes--so in a way there was even resistance from within to Parks investigators tackling the poachers and traffickers. Going after the bad apples in-house just wastes investigators' time. But they have to do it. And hopefully their investigations will result in exoneration. Sometimes the bad apples aren't even really bad, but government works--or should work, and did much more so in Graham's day--like the diplomatic corps, insofar as what you are seen to be doing is just as important as what you are doing.
I first heard of Graham when I was in Bophuthatswana. He had been tasked--more or less by Robert Mugabe himself, which was to later save his life on at least one occasion--with creating an investigations branch within Zimbabwe National Parks. He was a veteran policeman, with a good, solid record and not in any way one of the "good ol' boys" in conservation circles.
My government of the tune in Mafikeng wanted to put the homeland on the map for foreign sport hunters, and as the flagship Pilanesberg in those days was a parastatal game reserve and not a government entity as it later became. My colleague, Hans Koenig, suggested sending a representative from the government to the Dallas and Reno conventions--which role he filled himself owing to his hands-on knowledge of what was happening in Bophuthatswana, and also originally being from Reno. It was there that he met Graham.
Later, after Graham's death, I wrote to Hans, then a game warden back in the States, and asked him for more specifics. Graham had warned Hans about possible improprieties in Bophuthatswana, which was sort of a magnet for ex-Rhodesian national parks, police and military. By then, two decades had lapsed. Hans's reply was somewhat vague:
"Graham. I recall talking to him on the phone and maybe a short letter. He implied that there were some unlawful activities going on in the Bop. This had to be before the arrival of Bob Thomson in Mafikeng. At one point, Graham told me something like, '... If you look hard enough, you'll find it ...' What he meant by "it" was the person or persons involved in the activities. Why he didn't just spell it out was a mystery to me. Maybe he didn't know either.
"The name Alec Rough was mentioned by him sometime in one of these discussions. You'll recall that he was file partner in the game capture outfit along with Nico Roux. Rough was the helicopter pilot, reportedly came from money. It didn't show. I unfortunately cannot remember file implication, nor the alleged violations. I suspected that Rough was the one who told Jeremy Anderson about file game theft that involved Charlie Stopforth. I always thought that it was a move by Anderson to consolidate his authority and dissolve file (Nature Conservation) division".
Jeremy Anderson's dream was to create a national parks board along the lines of the Rhodesian model in Bophuthatswana. Obviously, with the Pilanesberg as its keystone and himself ensconced in the director's office. The Nature Conservation Division was in the way and had to go. Kind of like Investigations Branch. "It" was probably something Graham was hoping Hans could corroborate for him. You have to remember that, although brothers in the same fraternity, we didn't know each other all that well, and, as with our counterparts in South Africa we were always wondering if we could trust each other! I have also told elsewhere of the stopping of the truckload of game, captured from the Pilanesberg and destined for Charles Stopfoth's farm. Stopforth was file Assistant Secretary for Agriculture, and neither we nor Anderson--the director of file Pilanesberg--knew anything about file clandestine "off-take", and I don't believe the capture company did, either, insofar as they would have assumed it was legitimate. Given that Stopforth wrote the permits it wouldn't have been an easy one to pursue at our pay grade.
Little did we realise back in the early '80s that the whole story would frame-shift, at least for me, back to Zimbabwe.
By this tune, I had come to know Graham well. He didn't have many friends, but this is an occupational hazard for a policeman, and certainly an offhanded compliment--it means you are good at your job. He had a clearly-defined sense of right and wrong, and he'd never work with the bad guys--knowingly or for any ulterior motive. He was also your archetypical "Fabian of the Yard" sort of traditional cop, he had an enquiring mind, and spent a lot of his last years with the Department in the computer room (which boasted some coal-driven antique running Windows 3.1) or trying to iron the quirks out of the newfangled encrypted Motorola SSB radios he'd insisted the Branch acquire--but his idea of solid police work was sore feet at the end of the day.
He was a good administrator. You have to be, in government service, lest you not be able to account for every one of your actions and get unduly weighed down by all the knives in your back. And as file chief investigator for a high profile department, you become, by default, the biggest duck in the shooting gallery. Having left the police as today's equivalent of an assistant inspector, he was by then comparable to an assistant commissioner. The Branch was small in those days--stations in Harare, Bulawayo, and Mutare with offices in places like Kariba and Beitbridge. Graham's 2I/C and the Senior Investigation Officers were also ex-BSAP, superbly trained and dedicated. Easy to run, and use to optimum effect.
Graham was instrumental in re-designing the department flag, and introducing new insignia of rank for Parks personnel, which allowed equivalents to be recognised between National Parks, the police and the army. This did a lot for morale. But it seems the only thing he is remembered for is the "fancy new" Investigations Branch ID card, which was supposed to confer mystical powers on file bearer. There was nothing fancy or new about it, and it was basically just the Department's card with two horizontal red stripes through it. A peace officer's authority comes from acts of parliament and statutory instruments, not an ID card and everyone should know this.
Graham's gut instincts were good--very good. He wasn't used to being wrong, and he generally wasn't. But if he had failings, and we all do, they were that he was too convinced of his own infallibility to the point where once he'd lowered his horns and begun the charge, God himself would have a hard tune convincing him he might be wrong, and--surprisingly--a degree of naivete which would eventually lead to some of his biggest problems in the department. He believed in looking you in the eye when you spoke, and he had a firm handshake--generally synonymous with someone who lacks the guile to comprehend, much less deal with, the insidious quagmire that is African politics. He assumed, way too far, that if he was a straight shooter, so were other officials and sources. A word in his ear at the right time or by the right person was all it needed to launch him in a certain direction. Against the early 1990s backdrop of a power struggle between various conservation groups and file country's ruling political party, ZANU-PF, there was no room for naivete.
Dr Willie Nduku, the National Parks director back in the day, was an extremely competent man and a bona fide scientist. But because in the 1970s he had supported the offshoot ZANU-Ndonga party, he was not a political heavyweight and was seen by some politicos as a loose camion.
Deputy Director Dr Rowan Martin (nothing to do with Laugh In, though his saga later had some of the trappings of bad comedy) faced various corruption charges: inappropriately accepting the gift of a Toyota Land Cruiser from the International Rhino Foundation's Ingrid Schroeder in exchange for facilitating the export of Black rhino to the States and Australia (in hindsight a very admirable move) and misappropriation of funds stemming from allegations of illegally exporting two hundred elephants to Bophuthatswana for about Z$10 million during the 1992 drought.
Nduku, sadly, for he is a good man and a first-rate biologist, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it was his office where the buck had to stop. He didn't do anything wrong and he had his men's backs, and that cost him his job.
Martin was also a very capable conservationist, but on top of that something of a local hero, and demigods do not necessarily have to follow the rules laid out for mortal men. Or so they think. No charges were ever proven against him, and I believe it's safe to say that his victimisation was merely a political expedient perpetrated by Nduku's successor, Willis Makombe, who was neither a good conservationist nor a capable administrator, but rather the embodiment of all that is wrong with a third-rate politico. Like Nixon should never have bought that tape recorder, Martin should have cleared the vehicle with the Parks board.
Then there was Gordon Putterill, who had been the warden of the Gonarezhou National Park. Putterill had been reprimanded in 1992 for (legally) shooting a number of cattle that had strayed into the park during the drought, and he had also been arrested for (also, quite legally) shooting a poacher. His actions had been justified. But because of the 1992 drought, as warden of Gonarezhou he was also caught up in the elephant export scandal. Which was basically the allegation that the government had been prejudiced of some $2.5 million dollars in an "elephant fire sale" to Bophuthatswana.
Graham Nott's main concern, as a good, old fashioned policeman, was where the money had gone, if in fact it had gone anywhere. In the process, he became the pawn of Makombe's faction. Putterill always kept threatening to name names and expose those who needed exposing, but in the end he never did. I wish he had. If he really could have, and it wasn't just talk. Maybe one day ...
The elephant export scandal was much more complicated than I need to go into here, but for those who might want to understand the background, Rosaleen Duffy's Killing for Conservation--despite not reflecting a lot of my personal views in general--gives a good factual account of the intricacies involving the German government, Swiss bank accounts, and all the good stuff, culminating in the export of two hundred elephant to a government Zimbabwe didn't even recognise. Unless cash was involved, of course.
There is no evidence that it was an unsound management practice, but Graham figured the government should have realised a lot more money from the sale. Any school kid with a calculator would have come to the same conclusion. It was front-page news, and as Graham said to me one day, the best place to hide something is in plain sight. His only concern was whether or not any money had been diverted. It was his job to investigate, and although I was not involved in this case at all, Madikwe had been one of my districts in Bophuthatswana a decade previously, and all I remembered was barren, over-grazed bush. I probably didn't help matters when, early on, I commented that if they were going to put two hundred elephant there they'd probably have to feed them on KFC because there wasn't much else. But a lot can happen in ten years, and the Madikwe Game Reserve some 90km north of Zeerust is now the fifth largest game reserve in South Africa, and its 680[km.sup.2] are today regarded as one of the better conservation areas in Africa.
Suffice it to say that the scandal brought about the downfall of Nduku, Martin and Putterill, and this in turn tarnished the department's image and caused the mass exodus of a number of very capable and dedicated Parks staff. Not Graham, though it would be an understatement to say that Makombe was afraid of him. A guy like Graham wouldn't look the other way in future, and that scares men like Makombe.
A good example of this exodus would be one of the living legends of National Parks in those days--Warden Clem Coetsee, who had perfected the capture and translocation of rhino and elephant into a true art form. He was part of the collateral damage stemming from the elephant export scandal, and the late Keith Meadows, in his otherwise very readable Sometimes When it Rains tells the story from his and Clem's perspective--although his research didn't extend to actually getting the spelling of Graham's name right, and it comes across as a little too much of a rant. I don't know how much documentary evidence he consulted:
"A dogged campaign of harassment by a maverick element of the National Parks was mounted against several members of Parks staff, ft was spearheaded by the National Parks investigations branch headed by Graham Knott (sic). The principal targets of his investigations--over-zealous to be charitable, but malevolent in the eyes of many--appeared to be the then head of Parks, Dr Willie Nduku, and the head of Parks Research, Dr Rowan Martin. But the fallout covered a considerably wider area and bemired a number of other people. Ex-warden Clem Coetsee was one. He was accused of participating in die clandestine export of two hundred elephant to South Africa, in which he and others had amassed millions of dollars for themselves."
Graham faced a lot of this sort of "How can he do this to us--we're white, after all!" mindset, but give me a break. Two and a half million dollars, had it existed, was a lot of money, and we all know that the same fine, upstanding folk who bemoan their friends having been investigated in one context would be morally outraged if they picked up the paper and read about two and a half million dollars going unaccounted for in some other context and it wasn't thoroughly investigated! In the end, the government had been prejudiced because the animals were mider-valued, but there was no evidence anyone had siphoned off any illicit funds. Establishing this fact was what Graham was paid to do. And what the hell use is an under-zealous investigator, anyway?
There has been a persistent rumour circulating for some time now. As far as I know, it surfaced after Graham's death, which is about as behind-the-back as you can get. This rumour claims he was on the South African Defence Force payroll during his time in the Zimbabwean Government, with the brevet rank of captain. That would be something out of the same mould as folks like the Bawdens and Kevin Woods of The Kevin Woods Story: In the Shadow of Mugabe's Gallows fame (don't get me started). Trouble is, the Graham Nott I knew was a man of principle, so I never thought that shoe would fit. But, why be subjective? When I worked on contract in Iraq in 2003-4, I made the acquaintance of a number of formerly high-ranking SADF officers, half-colonels, including a couple in the intelligence sector, who had now gone commercial. I also know an ex-SADF officer and attorney in Pretoria who knows how to navigate through the files of that country's post-independence Truth and Reconciliation Commission, not to mention more than one former Zimbabwean intelligence officer.
So, even though I thought I knew what the answer was likely to be, I asked. In a day when that kind of information should be water under the bridge, and a threat to no one, it was news to all these folk. No one knew anything about such a transgression. It didn't really make all that much sense anyway--though National Parks was a key player in national security because of their presence on the ground, I don't believe they would be that effective a target in order to cause major destabilisation to the government.
The 1987 murder of Parks investigators Martin Marimo and Martin Sibanda near Gonarezhou is sometimes brought up to strengthen the theory of an SADF connection. The (il) logic being that because the killings appeared to have been carried out with military precision, it must have been done by an SADF special forces unit which had been infiltrated from neighbouring Mozambique where they were engaged in the support of the anti-government rebels. That's really over-reaching, but it does make good fiction. There were crack military units a lot closer than Mozambique--in and around Gonarezhou, and they weren't South African.
I have told elsewhere about Graham's successful prosecution of a senior assistant police commissioner, John Chademana, for buffalo poaching and his attempted murder at the hands of the authorities--which was only thwarted by the personal intervention of President Robert Mugabe. Oddly, Graham's detractors often trot out his investigations into Warden Graham Hall at Kariba, whose reinstatement was ordered some years later, and his investigation into the elephant export scandal, but they never mention his prosecution, for example, of Chief Warden Arthur Wood, which was good, solid police work that led to a successful conviction. And they never mention Graham's investigations into very senior government officials outside of National Parks, which could easily have cost him his life. Basically what I'm saying here is that if you're going to put cards on the table, put them all on the table. Trouble is, "the Gordian Nott" is an emotional topic, so it is going to get seen one way or the other. That's just the way it's going to be. In National Parks and Wildlife Management, Rhodesia and Zimbabwe 1928-1990, Mike Bromwich fairly sums up his treatment of these times by saying that since Graham Nott has passed on, we will never hear his side of the story. And there is a lot more I would like to know about the murders of Martin Marimo and Martin Sibanda, the death of William Hove, and a number of other cases.
There is a lot I probably don't know, but Graham--not that he would have bothered to try and justify his actions anyway--is at the ultimate disadvantage. Having passed on, with the majority of his detractors still in full cry. Why do they never bring up the Protection of Wildlife (Indemnity) Act, Act 21 of 1989? Graham promulgated this piece of legislation after National Parks Chief Warden Glenn Tatham, Warden Steve Edwards, and police Inspector Charlie Haley were arrested and charged with murder following from the fatal shooting of a poacher and rhino horn trafficker who was in possession of an AK-47 and six rhino horns when the contact ensued, in the late 1980s, this three-man team literally stemmed the tide of poaching incursions into the Zambezi Valley. There was no murder and all charges were soon dropped. This piece of legislation indemnifies peace officers from arrest and prosecution for acts committed in good faith to combat poaching. To this day, it allows anti-poaching teams to operate at their most efficient without fear of political reprisals. It benefited uniformed staff in the department much more than anyone else.
And what about die minimum mandatory five-year prison sentences introduced at the same time? Through Graham Nott's efforts. Next to a bullet in the head it is about as efficient a deterrent as you'll get in Africa.
It was Graham's subsequent investigation of the late Senior Assistant Commissioner Winston Changara on allegations of poaching on state-owned farms in the Battlefields and Featherstone areas that was to be his downfall. At the same time, while the Zimbabwean currency remained strong, there was a very generous "voluntary retirement" package offered to senior civil servants which allowed them to actually achieve something with a meaningful amount of money.
Like I said, Graham had strong perceptions of right and wrong, and he was realising that in the new Zimbabwe he was rapidly becoming an anachronism. I don't know, and he never told me, whether it was "politely suggested" from on high that he avail himself of the retirement scheme, but he did. He developed a plot of land in the Nyanga mountains into a productive banana and macadamia nut plantation, and manufactured some of the hottest damn chilli sauce it has ever been my pleasure to ladle on otherwise edible food!
At the end of the day, something like Investigations Branch is going to be the square peg for the round hole. The realities of investigations and intelligence-gathering--police work--are going to be markedly different from wildlife management and research--biology. They will never meld. So really, none of Graham Nott's detractors today were his peers. Men like Paul Russell, OBE, the former Director of Operations of Zambia's Anti-Corruption Commission, which had embedded within it a "Species Protection Department", and Col Piet Lategan of the South African Police Endangered Species Protection Unit were Graham Nott's peers. I can't think of a better way to sum up this treatise than to quote Paul Russell, who was heavily involved in the suppression of wildlife crime north of the Limpopo during Graham's tenure: "I am sorry to learn that Graham had died: I did not know that. I got to know him quite well. I recall that he was the Chief Investigations Officer in the Wildlife Department. Not too many people know that I had an HF radio contact with him in his office in Harare with mine in Lusaka. We spoke regularly and I met him once in Harare and once in Hwange. I had much more faith in him than a lot of the other so-called 'heroes' at that time". (The SSB link was news to me, but then Graham was responsible for the installation of encrypted Motorola station base sets for the Branch, and even in his day, especially in his line of work, you couldn't trust the phones.)
I last saw Graham in the winter of 2002 when I went to visit him in a local Harare clinic. He was in the final stages of terminal cancer. But he was still alert, insofar as his medication let him be, and we had a good chat. I, for one, lay the blame for much of what's wrong with African national parks and conservation in general on the fact that there aren't any Graham Notts left any more. But then, I'm an anachronism too.
By Mr X