Cultural defense of cruelty to bulls succeeds in South Africa

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007:
CAPE TOWN–Asked to recognize
bullfighting as a “World Heritage” cultural rite,
the United Nations Educational & Scientific
Organization may look toward South Africa for
precedents–and find sharply contradictory
On the one hand, UNESCO project officer
for peace, human rights and democracy Ben Boys
in 2003 lauded South Africa for becoming the
first nation in Africa to add humane education to
the national school curriculum.
On the other, the South African National SPCA
has repeatedly been unable to accomplish anything
to reduce the ritual mayhem inflicted on bulls as
part of the Zulu “First Fruits” festival,
revived in 1992 after the end of apartheid.

“We are not allowed to interfere,” Cape
of Good Hope SPCA spokesperson Cher Poznanovich
told Los Angeles Times staff writer Robyn Dixon
in February 2007. “They gouge out the bulls’
eyes, tear their testicles, and kill the bulls
with their bare hands.”
The cultural pretext for the “First
Fruits” festival spilled over into personal
conduct in January 2007, when a politically
well-placed convicted criminal escaped cruelty
charges that could have returned him to prison.
“Tony Yengeni, former African National
Congress party chief whip in the South African
Parliament, was convicted of defrauding
Parliament by failing to declare a massive
discount on a luxury vehicle during arms deal
negotiations,” summarized Humane Education Trust
founder Louise van der Merwe. “He was sentenced
to four years in prison, but was released on
parole after serving only four months.
“According to news reports,” van der
Merwe told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “Yengeni and Malmesbury
Prison deputy director Chris van Rensburg
travelled 150 kilometres to Porterville to
collect a bull for ritual slaughter at his home
in Guguletu, Cape Town, on January 19, 2007.
“According to the Cape Argus, ‘Yengeni
exerted much effort trying to herd the bullock
into the garden, while one of his business mogul
friends even resorted to biting the animal’s tail
to get it to move.’ Yengeni stabbed the bull
with his family’s traditional spear. A group of
young men then completed the slaughter.
“Two sheep were slaughtered after the
bull,” van de Merwe continued. “According to
the Argus, ‘As the skin was removed from the
first sheep, ANC Youth League member Lunga
Ncwana joked with friends that it was a trauma
for the other sheep, who was waiting tied up
nearby.’ According to the Argus, the ritual
killing of the bull and sheep was ‘to wash away
the prison curse and integrate Yengeni
spiritually and physically with his family. The
crying of the animal indicated ‘the acceptance of
the ceremony by the ancestors.'”
Asked van der Merwe, “How can we fight
crime and violence when our leaders callously
commit cruel acts of violence against those who
are totally defenseless? South Africa’s leaders
need to realize that if they want to be world
players, they need to leave anachronisms behind.
“As Ben Boys put it in 2003, when he
launched the U.N. Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development,” and helped van der
Merwe to present the first All-Africa Humane
Education Summit, “‘Teaching children to respect
and care for animals and the wider environment is
an important step in sustainable development and
respect for human rights. As the intellectual
leaders of our nations, we are duty bound to
lead the way to justice and humanity.'”
Pet store employee Jenna Hanslip reportedly filed
a cruelty complaint against Yengeni, based on
the Argus account and an accompanying photograph.
“If these allegations are true, then this is
definitely a criminal offence under the Animal
Protection Act,” Cape of Good Hope SPCA
spokesperson Andries Venter told the South
African Press Association. “For this kind of an
offence a court could sentence a person to up to
12 months imprisonment.”
Pledged Venter, “Once we have completed our
investigation, we will forward the docket to the
police, who will then hand it over to the state
prosecutor for a decision” about how to proceed.
But Arts & Culture ministry spokesperson Sandile
Memela asserted that, “It is the constitutional
right of all indigenous families, groups and
families to perform rituals that they believe
reconnect them to their ancestors.”
Comparing Yengeni’s killing to Muslim and Jewish
halaal and kosher slaughter, Memela denounced
what she termed “selective racism that condemns
this specific African ritual.” However, Muslim
and Jewish slaughtering rules forbid killing or
butchering animals in front of each other, and
were intended to kill animals by the fastest,
least painful means available at the time they
were codified.
Said South African Human Rights Commission chair
Jody Kollapen, “The Commission’s perspective is
that one cannot take a simplistic approach to
matters like thisÅ We would urge the National SPCA
to engage in a public debate around the issues
relating to culture and cultural liberty and the
SPCA’s mandate to prevent cruelty to animals.”
Responded Cape of Good Hope SPCA chief
executive Allan Perrins, “We are legally
compelled to address any and all suspected cases
of cruelty to animals, and have done so for 135
years. The SPCA recognises that every citizen’s
right to practise cultural activities is legally
protected, and recognises the validity and
importance of ritual slaughter. The
circumstances under which animals were
slaughtered, not the practice of animal
slaughter, is the focus of our investigation.”
Announced Venter two days later, “There
is inadequate evidence or witnesses to proceed
with the prosecution, and as a result we have
decided to drop our investigation.”
But the matter was hardly ended.
Taunted labor minister Membathisi
Mdladlana, “I invite the NSPCA to join us,” at
a ceremony to honor King Mampuru of the Bapedi
nation and King Nyabela of amaNdebele in Limpopo.
“We will be slaughtering a bull without
euthanasing it,” Mdladlana boasted. “We’ll ask
them to come into the kraal to share in the
feast. We want the bull to bellow–and then we’ll
sing the praises of our ancestors.”
NSPCA chief executive Marcelle Meredith
initially declined the invitation, but then
reconsidered and accepted it.
“As a leader of our country, the
minister is sure to uphold the law, and we are
confident that no suffering will take place,”
Meredith told the Cape Times. “We are assured
there is no suffering, if the slaughter is
carried out in the traditional manner by a
skilled person, taking into account the
transport, handling, and restraining of the
Memela continued to attack. “There’s no
need for an organization which hasn’t caught up
with the social, political and cultural
developments in the country to continue to throw
out outdated laws that promote apartheid
attitudes,” she told Los Angeles Times writer
Johannesburg Mail & Guardian columnist
Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya wrote that the NSPCA
response “came over as a knee-jerk reaction,
inspired by a colonial desire to educate the
brutish natives. A bit of South African
history,” Moya asserted, “would tell them that
among black South Africans there has always been
a perception that whites care more about animals
than they do about black people.”
Meredith in mid-February was still trying
to put the mid-January fracas behind her.
“This was just a political issue,”
Meredith asserted. “I believe that the National
SPCA, the Human Rights Commission, the Cultural
Linguistic Rights Commission and everyone else
was pulled into a political story which had
nothing to do with slaughtering,” she told
reporters after meeting with CLRC officials.
Meredith blamed the furor on “the media”
who “came to the Cape of Good Hope branch of the
NSPCA with the story that Yengeni had slaughtered
the bull. They should not have taken this
political bait,” Meredith said.
“The meeting between the NSPCA and us was
fruitful and very helpful,” said CLRC chair
Mongezi Guma. “We made a commitment to find ways
to do cultural slaughtering in a way that will
promote and protect the welfare of the animals.”

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