Minister Molewa notes high court ruling on rhino horn auction

21 August 2017

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, has noted the North Gauteng High Court ruling relating to the issuance of a permit for the selling of rhino horn to breeder John Hume.

The domestic sale of rhino horn is legal following a Constitutional Court order in April 2017 upholding a 2015 High Court decision uplifting the 2009 moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn retrospectively.

Domestic trade in rhino horn is subject to the issuance of the relevant permits in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004) (NEMBA), its regulations and applicable provincial legislation. 

However only the Minister has the authority to grant permits for the sale of rhino horn in the seven provinces where the Members of the Executive Council (MEC’s) responsible for Environmental Affairs have agreed that the Minister should be the issuing authority for permits relating to trade in rhino horn.

Mr. Hume applied for a permit for the sale of 264 rhino horn for what has been described in the media as ‘the world’s first online rhino horn auction’.

On 10 August 2017 the selling permit was issued by an official in the DEA, in the belief that she had the delegated authority to issue a selling permit. However, the permit was not handed to Mr Hume.  

On Wednesday 16 August 2017,  Mr Hume brought an urgent application for the permit to be issued. 

The urgent application was brought with less than 48 hours’ notice.  The Minister opposed the application and at the same time applied to have the unauthorised permit set aside.


The application was heard on 20 August 2017.  The Court refused to set aside the permit on the basis that the application to set aside the unauthorised permit was not urgent. 

On the issue of the delegation of powers within the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the judge acknowledged that this was a complex issue that could not be decided on an urgent basis by an urgent court without consideration of legal argument to be heard in the ordinary course.

The court ordered the Minister to hand over the original permit – issued in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004,  to Mr Hume within 12 hours of the ruling. 

It should be noted that the permit to be handed over to Mr Hume was issued with a number of conditions, including the following:

  • The permit holder can only sell rhino horn to a person who has a permit issued in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 authorising him / her to buy rhino horn from Mr Hume (i.e. a buyer’s permit)
  • The permit does not authorise international trade in rhino horn.
  • The Department must be granted access to the online auction to do the necessary compliance monitoring.

The Department wishes to reiterate that the  commercial international trade remains prohibited by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). South Africa is party to CITES.

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