Fear is like fire, it can burn you or it can fuel you. As an activist I fear bearing witness to the extinction of an iconic species far more than I fear taking on a poaching syndicate.

I do not have the luxury of simple morality. Right now I’m in my homeland South Africa, battling to save rhinos in a war on greed, and that means I need to save people too – even the impoverished poachers that are recruited by ruthless kingpins.

On April 10th Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the revered Public Protector of South Africa, accepted my case after nine weeks of me stalking her office. In 2014 Time magazine named Thuli Madonsela one of the 100 most influential people in the world in the Leaders category and described her as "an inspirational example of what African public officers need to be".  

She has opened up a preliminary investigation into corruption that enables rhino poaching, a landmark case, and an injection of hope into a fatigued conservation community. This was following my expose on Dumisani Gwala, the alleged KwaZulu-Natal rhino poaching kingpin, and a justice system that is clearly failing us.

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

“How is it that I became a trusted journalist for sources?” I get asked this question a lot. “Does Gwala have a hit out on me, and do I fear for my life?” I get asked this question even more.

Our haemorrhaging earth is crying out for courageous journalism that can cut through the red tape. It is because I am always out in the field and an activist that can write – as opposed to an office based journalist picking up a regular paycheque – that I became the chosen one.

By the last week of April, in KwaZulu-Natal alone, at least 50 rhinos were lost to poaching, of which 48 were in government reserves.

Secrets are a gift and a burden. Once you know the truth you can never go back – both physically and mentally. I have no fixed address to the point that not even I know where I’m going to be next week. The struggle to get the people that are in charge of our natural heritage to take action against corruption has been so stressful that my hair started to fall out in chunks. 

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

Since I published my original expose other journalists have attempted to write about Gwala’s syndicate and alleged links to corruption – they have been shut down. In the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province of South Africa, where the rhino death toll is rapidly rising (while Gwala is out on bail for attempted murder and rhino horn dealing) many KZN NGOs and game reserves continue to be silent on the issue of corruption in their own backyard. It’s just too political and too often they do not want to bite the hand that feeds them.

By the last week of April, in KwaZulu-Natal alone, at least 50 rhinos were lost to poaching, of which 48 were in government reserves. In 2015 the province was second in losses only to ground zero Kruger National Park.

 My real fear is that I will get arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, in order to get me out of the way. 

I am the face of activism, but I only walk the line because I am supported by an invisible collective of people that walk beside me: mentors and minders, incredible conservationists and unsung heroes.

Extraordinary people come into your life when you are willing to do extraordinary things, and that is the greatest unexpected gift I have ever received. Unlike the rhino horn buyers in Asia that have a twisted lust for status symbols – there is no ego and there is no jostling for recognition, only a relentless commitment to save what little wildlife we have left.

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

I have had to make sacrifices, something I thought long and hard about before I went into this. I have no public emotional bonds and even in my secret life I am careful when forming new bonds, because I know these connections can make me vulnerable.

There are times when I feel isolated and the loneliness is a dark shadow that I am learning to co-exist with, but that is why it is important to have an outlet. I come from a bloodline of champion fighters, and I call on the spirit of my father when I’m shadow boxing my frustrations away. When I’m not on a bush assignment I’m usually on the coast, where sea salty skin is pure medicine, but the fire within must never burn out…

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

Virgin Unite, Animal Conservation, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph

How you walk through the fire is what counts the most. I could have come out hard and fast like a wrecking ball, publishing a series of shocking stories, but I didn’t, I held back. Last month I personally handed over critical information to Advocate Thuli Madonsela and now it is up to The Public Protector’s Office to yield true power. 

Gwala is known as a man that rules by the gun, but I am not afraid of Gwala. My real fear is that I will get arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, in order to get me out of the way. That’s why as an activist it is so important to have a contingency plan in place and an invisible collective of people that will step up and ensure the work will endure.

Virgin Unite, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph, Saving the Wild, Animal Conservation, Thuli Madonsela

Virgin Unite, Rhinos, Jamie Joseph, Saving the Willd, Animal Conservation, Thuli Madonsela

The illegal wildlife trade is a joyride for syndicates, and journalism is failing to expose the corruption that makes their deadly playground possible. Too many people get stuck in a job they resent, and they end up dying before they’re dead. Sure, I live on the edge of sensibility, but that’s where the magic happens.

Jamie Joseph is the founder of savingthewild.com – a platform to connect with groundbreaking conservationists engaged in Africa’s poaching crisis. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

Comment