Lie detector tests coming for SANParks rangers


South Africa’s premier conservation agency – SANParks – will implement polygraph testing for “certain job categories” as another component of ongoing efforts to combat poaching.

Welcoming the lie detector testing, apparently to be implemented by year-end, Democratic Alliance (DA), shadow minister for environment, forestry and fisheries Dave Bryant said: “Any effort to combat rampant ongoing poaching is welcomed and I’ll keep a keen eye on progress to ensure it happens”.

In December, defenceWeb reported on a much-delayed trial that saw two former Kruger National Park rangers sentenced to seven years jail following their arrest three years earlier. Hendric Eccelence Silinda and Achieve Musa Mlambo were dismissed soon after their arrest in February 2019. This was followed by reinstatement “due to procedural issues” with them then employed as general workers until the trial was finalised.

The Skukuza Regional Court found them guilty of possession of an unlicensed firearm (for which they were sentenced to five years jail), possession of prohibited firearm (six years), possession of unlicensed ammunition (two years) and possession of a dangerous weapon (a year). The court ordered the sentences to run concurrently, meaning each will serve seven years.

Another possible involvement with rhino poaching in the iconic game reserve came in April when two unnamed rangers were arrested by Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation) officers. Charges of fraud, money laundering and corruption are at the heart of the investigation and arrest.

SANParks General Manager: Media and Stakeholder Relations, Rey Thakhuli, said development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the polygraph testing policy has been approved by the national conservation agency’s board.

The policy was developed after extensive consultation with relevant experts, including labour law and consultation with organised labour.

According to Thakhuli, the intention is ultimately to make polygraph testing compulsory to certain job categories as determined by a risk assessment of function and job content. The current labour law environment and SANParks conditions of service (CoS) disallow compulsory application of polygraph testing. The policy paves the way for negotiating a collective agreement that will result in amendment of the CoS, as well as inclusion of compulsory polygraph testing as part of new employment contracts.

For existing employees, amendment of employment contracts in line with the policy can only be undertaken after negotiation and conclusion of a collective agreement. Thakuli said there is an option for individual employees to voluntarily agree to have employment contracts amended. “This will be done to manage risks without compromising employee rights and resulting in victimisation.”

The value of the policy and the SOP is it allows for testing on a voluntary basis and in a manner enabling risk mitigation without compromising employee rights or creating “an environment of victimisation”.

“It is important to appreciate polygraph testing is not the answer to prevent or manage staff involvement in criminality but it is a tool to be used as part of a toolkit and with a full understanding of its benefits and limitations,” Thakhuli said in a statement.

According to him, even in voluntary form, polygraph testing is important in preventing staff involvement in criminality, such as rhino poaching.

“For most of our rangers who are honest and committed to protection of rhino, it [polygraph testing] provides an opportunity to demonstrate they are trustworthy. This is an important imperative for team cohesion.”