“Many women are still afraid to stand up for what they believe in,” says Nocry Mzimba, who is one of 36 young female Black Mamba Rangers, a unit that fights poachers killing rhinos. “I believe in nature. Some people tried to discourage me to become part of this unit, believing it is a man’s job. However, I went ahead nonetheless, following my passion.”
The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit* was established in 2013. Mzimba, who is a Kaizer Chiefs supporter, decided to join this new unit, like other women from communities that are adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park area. The goal of the Black Mambas is to protect wildlife in the Greater Kruger area, including the Balule Nature Reserve.
Their main focus, however, is the protection of the rhinos. “During my time at primary school,” Mzimba explains, “we often visited game reserves. That was when I fell in love with animals and started appreciating nature. Part of our responsibilities as human beings in preserving nature is the important fight against the poaching of rhinos. We must ensure that our children and grandchildren are also able to see this beautiful creature in wildlife.”
Mzimba completed a training programme to become a Black Mamba, learning how to track animals, using firearms, surviving in the field without food and how to keep the rhinos secure from poachers. Interestingly, the Black Mambas work unarmed as they protect the animals by creating a visible presence. Their mission is to prevent poachers from coming to the reserve.
Since 2004, rhino poaching exploded in South Africa, with 1 215 rhinos killed in 2014 alone. Rhino poaching increased to over 7 000 percent between 2007 and 2014, with each death a further risk of possible extinction.
The Black Mambas have had tremendous success combatting poaching. For example, in 2015, there was a period of ten months when no rhinos were poached at all.
“Just like women have to be protected against gender-based violence,” Mzimba continues, “the rhinos also need to be guarded against poachers. It is such a great honour to be part of this unit which has been so successful in protecting the rhinos. The rhinos have become our friends.”
She follows up with a moving story about a baby rhino that had to be fed at the basecamp. “The moment the rhino heard our footsteps when we arrived from our regular patrols, she would come running towards us, basically saying, ‘You are back safe. I am so happy’.”
Part of the Black Mambas’ job is also to educate children against poaching. They, in turn, are then able to send a message to their communities to stop the killing of rhinos.
On celebrating Women’s Month, Mzimba comments: “The abuse against women must stop. Often, women shield their pain and tears with a smile. But we need to be strong. It is time for us to collectively push back by encouraging one another to be courageous and stand up against abuse. We are the mothers of the world, the future.”
When she is not busy protecting the rhinos, Mzimba follows soccer passionately. Her favourite club is Kaizer Chiefs. Like other South Africans, Mzimba could not enjoy her favourite pastime due the Covid-19 epidemic, so she is happy that the league has restarted. “I missed football so much.”
Itumeleng Khune is Mzimba’s favourite Glamour Boy. “I just love the way he plays as a goalkeeper. He always seems able to save the balls from going into the goal. He is just brilliant.”
* Transfrontier Africa (TA) is the founding company of the Black Mambas and acts on behalf of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. – Chief Directorate: EPIP through the Extended Public Works Program (EPWP). The EPWP is a nationwide programme that was launched in 2004. The programme provides an important avenue for labour absorption and income transfers to poor households. It is also a deliberate attempt by the public-sector bodies to use expenditure on goods and services to create work opportunities for the unemployed. SANParks administers and accommodates the salaries of all our Black Mamba Rangers through the EPWP – Environmental Monitor Program.