On the Passing of Dr Ian Player
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
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
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
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
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
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
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