On the Passing of Dr Ian Player

Statement by
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP

01 December 2014.  

The passing of Dr Ian Player is a tremendous loss to South Africa and a personal blow to me and my wife, Princess Irene Buthelezi. We have been friends with Dr Player and Mrs Ann Player for more than half a century, both as fellow conservationists and as patriots. 

Dr Player’s contribution to protecting and conserving our rhino will be remembered as pivotal to this on-going battle. Indeed, were it not for his efforts, we may well have had no rhino to protect today. 

I first met Dr Player after my installation as Inkosi of the Buthelezi Clan, in the fifties, when he and Mr Nick Steele called upon me to speak to amakhosi and traditional communities in Hlabisa and Mtubatuba to appeal to them to accept the establishment of “the Corridor” between Umfolozi Game Reserve and the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. 

Dr Player was the senior conservator in the Natal Parks Board. At that time, the Apartheid Government maintained game reserves as the exclusive playground of whites. But Dr Player, in an unprecedented act, arranged for me to spend time at Hluhluwe and Umfolozi. 

It was almost as though Dr Player judged people according to their heart for conservation, not on their skin colour, education or background. I was impressed by the respect he showed towards Magqubu Ntombela, with whom he worked in the Wilderness Leadership School, which Dr Player founded and of which I am a Trustee. Magqubu could not read or write, but he had an in-depth knowledge of the veld. The mutual respect between him and Dr Player was unmistakable. 

When I became Chief Minister of KwaZulu in 1976, I established the KwaZulu Bureau of Natural Resources, which became the Department of Nature Conservation, and my relationship with Dr Player expanded. 

Together we attended the World Conservation Congress in San Antonio, Texas. A decade later, he joined me in Germany where I received an International Conservation Award. 

Dr Player’s commitment to protecting the rhino population cost him a great deal.

By the seventies, fewer than 500 White Rhino remained, but our efforts were growing their number in Mfolozi Game Reserve. 

Dr Player initiated Operation White Rhino, whereby surplus rhino were captured at Mfolozi Game Reserve and sent to the Kruger National Park and the great zoological gardens throughout the world. It was a tough assignment, not least because the darts that were used occasionally backfired. Dr Player lost vision in one eye due to this dart malfunction. Yet he had no regrets. 

In my estimation, Dr Ian Player was one of South Africa’s great patriots. He was an internationally recognised icon of conservation. It is not surprising that the previous government awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Service for his contribution to conservation. 

He was also the founder of the Dusi Marathon Boat Race. He formed friendships with giants in the field of conservation throughout the globe, such as the late Mr John Aspinall, and the late Mr Harry Tennison in the United States. 

His writing captured the imagination of many. In particular, his book titled “Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul” captures the pathos of Zulu culture and makes it accessible to a wide audience, building bridges of understanding and respect. 

As we mourn his passing, my family, my Party and I extend our deepest condolences to Mrs Ann Player, and to their children, Jessica and Amyas. We are grateful that the family could be together for several days before Dr Player passed away, and that they were surrounded with love and support. 

I believe we are fortunate to have had this son of South Africa as a world icon in the field of conservation. May our friend rest in peace.


IFP Media, Parliament