John Grobler has investigated wrongdoings in Africa for nearly a quarter century, since he returned home to Namibia in 1996 from an Alfred Friendly fellowship and a posting at the New York Times.
Grobler has been covering the logging of valuable rosewood trees in an extremely remote area of the Zambezi Region of his country since the practice started three years ago.
On his first trip, Grobler posed as a wood buyer to get information from the main players of the logging enterprise. He made a second trip to confirm what he found during his investigation, which took six weeks and required him to travel more than 4,000 miles.
“This is a difficult area to work because it is a completely undeveloped area, with only a one- track (road) along the Omuramba-Omatako River,” Grobler said. During those long trips, he saw “not a single mature African rosewood tree left standing,” Grobler wrote.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project published Grobler’s article in 2020, under the headline, “They are finishing the trees: Chinese companies and Namibian elites make millions illegally logging the last rosewoods.”
Grobler talked with a worker named Jacobus Oma as he loaded ancient rosewood logs onto a Chinese-owned truck, some centuries old.
“The children will never see trees like this in our lives again,” he said, recalling how the rosewood’s seed pods were traditionally a vital source of food for indigenous San people like himself during the dry season. … Despite a moratorium on harvesting these prized hardwoods in Namibia since November 2018, and a ban on trading raw timber since early August, the plunder has continued.”
Grobler said the illegal logging problem has spread to neighboring Angola, Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I will likely go back another time, this time to focus on the military types now grabbing San ancestral land, Grobler said.
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