Where to with the Animals of the Western Cape?

by | May 11, 2011 | Animal Welfare, Projects | 0 comments

On 10 May 2011 a meeting was held at the Cape Town Civic Centre, chaired by Alderman James Vos. He, with the Health Department of the City, has been given a mandate to investigate the formulation of an “animal welfare” policy for the City in collaboration with the Western Cape Provincial Government’s Department of Agriculture. The meeting was the start of the public participation process. Whether it turns out to be a false start remains to be seen. It is to be hoped, in the interests of the animals of the city and province, whether domesticated, farmed or wild, that a good deal of headway can be made soon toward the formulation of a sustainable and constitutionally compliant animal policy. This will also be in the interests of those who place a high value on the life of all sentient beings, those who work in agriculture with animals and those in the animal welfare sector. In particular, those who regard themselves as “animal rights activists” (and there were many at the meeting) have a keen interest in the development of a policy which adequately addresses their concerns about the cheapness of life, the prevalence of euthanasia as a solution to the effects of over-population of domestic animals such as dogs and cats, and the failure of officialdom in all spheres of government to grapple with the difficult issues which arise.

Modern societies have a very ambivalent attitude toward animals. Some we eat, some we love, some we wear and some we loathe. In China, for example, dogs are a delicacy on restaurant menus; in South Africa this would not be countenanced while in Britain, where couples pack the children off to boarding school and shower love and affection on their pets, dog consumption would be regarded as a form of cannibalism. Many vegetarians and vegans can not understand how, in this day and age, anyone dare eat meat, fish, eggs and poultry that has emerged from a factory process and not from a life well lived. Many well bellied braaivleis gourmands can not even contemplate life without meat on the menu. Freedom of choice and association enables these groups to co-exist.

In our post liberation South African society, the conflicts between the stances of the various camps have led to a form of paralysis in policy making that is evident at every level of government. The central government was not present or represented at the Vos meeting. It has, as long ago as 2006, put out a draft policy document called the “Draft Animal Care Policy for South Africa” via the directorate of animal and aquaculture production. Since then the trail has gone cold. No progress has been made at the national level on taking up the suggestions in the draft. The antique apartheid era legislation, some dating back to 1935 and in particular, the Animal Protection Act of 1962, are still in force despite the fact that the values, norms and principles which guide and regulate our new non-racial society, which is in the course of construction, are very different from those in place when the legislation still in force was passed all those years ago.

There is speculation that the policy making impasse at national level is due to the customary practices in relation to the slaughter of animals – especially the Zulu rite of passage that involves the bare handed killing of a bull by young boys – a practice that is arguably a criminal contravention of the Animal Protection Act and an infringement of the paramount rights of the boys to be free from violence and to be accorded respect for their psychological integrity.

These considerations do not constrain the law-makers of the Western Cape, where the DA governs at both provincial and city level. The policies of the DA are therefore those that ought to inform the laws, by-laws and regulations in place in this province and its mother city, both as regards animals, and in all other matters within the legislative competence of the province and city.

The problem is that the DA does not have a policy on animals. Writing a year ago, the Premier disclosed the following:

“The DA has no specific policy on animals, except that we are opposed to cruelty against animals. I will speak to JP [Councillor JP Smit] and convene a meeting from the DA’s perspective to look at a policy position (which then applies to all spheres of government)”

Earlier this year, Cape Town Councillor Frank Raymond, was appointed as the DA’s champion of animal policy making for all spheres of government, a step apparently entirely unrelated to the process started by the City. This led to some confusion in the run up to the meeting chaired by his colleague.

At the meeting it emerged that Councillor Vos has no clear perspective on where his mandate, both in terms of the Constitution and in terms of the process initiated, begins and ends. In his words, he is looking for “a place to park” the matter. The Department of Agriculture’s presentation to the meeting showed that it had completely missed the point of the meeting and it was left to the executive director of the City Health Department, Dr Ivan Bromfield, to inject a little policy oriented focus into the proceedings. Interested parties from a range of civil society organisations participated – ranging from the SPCA on the one hand, across a spectrum of organisations that oppose euthanasia of excess animals and favour sterilization as a strategy that addresses the cause, not effects, of the problems (of which there are many) attendant upon the over-population of animals, to a single citizen who spoke out for the abused dogs working in the security industry. Compassion in World Farming SA gave a presentation with the potential to convert carnivores into vegetarians overnight.

It will be a great pity if the City does not follow through on its initiative. The issues that crop up in the devising of a sustainable policy on animals are of a cross cutting nature; they impinge upon issues of health, nuisance, economics, tourism, human dignity and other relevant human rights such as the right to be free from violence, to psychological integrity and to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, among others. These are not issues that are easily “parked” or pigeon-holed.

The vision of the new South Africa is one in which a humane and compassionate society is created. Peace, progress and prosperity are all at the root of the various rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights. There is no way in which the attainment of a humane and compassionate society will be possible if the manner in which interaction between humans and animals is legislated for and regulated is not consonant with the value system of the Constitution.

It is well within the competence of the province and city to lead the way in creating a constitutionally compliant policy that can serve as an example to the rest of the country. Cape Town can, with the necessary political will, come up with sensible and sustainable ways of controlling the ongoing conflict between animals and humans. It is within the powers of the province to legislate the aspects of the policy that require the force of law and the city can then adjust its questionable pending (but not yet promulgated) animal by-law to bring it into line with the policy and render it constitutionally compliant. This will benefit both the people of the province and its animals, whether wild or domesticated.

Paul Hoffman SC
11 May 2011

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