Shocking state 08/23/12
The dismal state of animal protection in South Africa. By Claire Martens
I recently went with a group of animal lovers to the Sandton SPCA in Johannesburg and it was there that I became concerned about the state of animal protection in South Africa. A lady who works as an SPCA inspector told the group that there have very rarely been cases where people have been prosecuted for animal cruelty. She spoke of a case a number of years ago where a woman, who may have been mentally disabled, kept quite a large number of animals on her property. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think it was over 80 animals.
While I can understand the court’s sympathy towards her, as she had done her best to ensure the animals were healthy and was essentially offering a home to many, it irked me considerably that this seemed to be one of very few cases that have gone as far as the courts. And the punishment? The court ordered that the lady should lawfully only be allowed to keep two dogs on her property at one time.
It is not up to me to decide whether the court order speaks to justice or not, but I have hoped that courts will adopt a more strict approach to the issue of animal cruelty and ensuring the welfare of animals in the country. Today in LegalBrief I read about a case that give me hope for a brief moment, until I had to decide whether this case would do anything to develop the rights of animals in South Africa, or at the very least, ensure that they are no longer subject to cruelty.
In a recent Beeld article, it is reported that a chicken company has been fined R45 000 for dumping 70 000 day-old chicks into a dam. Great, justice! Or is it? Firstly, only R45 000 for the lives of 70 000 chicks? Secondly, and more importantly, it seems that only R5 000 of this amount was for the cruelty to animals part, to be given over to the Alberton SPCA. The other R40 000 was for waste management transgressions and other infringements.
And this is where I think the court failed the 70 000 chicks involved – and thousands of other animals which are cruelly treated every day. They buried the punishment beneath the environmental legislation in our country. However, this is tricky territory. Firstly, this is a fine imposed on a chicken farm. Some may argue that the conditions on the farm are cruel to chickens already, and that fining them for cruelties such as dumping chicks into a dam is not going far enough to protect these animals from harm. Chicken-eating society may suggest that the farm is a legitimate enterprise and that imposing harsh punishments on chicken farms may hurt the industry.
Some people might say that it goes against the rights of animals, but as far as I am aware, we do not recognise the rights of animals in the same way we recognise and protect the rights of people. This is a debate for another day. Rather, I would ask whether the welfare of animals is protected by this court order. And if not, what are some of the ways of improving the protection of animals.
Working for a legal organisation, I have seen how court orders can gradually transform society and contribute to law reform. I have faith in the judiciary. I would strongly support a harsh and uncompromising court order, as I believe that it may contribute gradually to better protection of animals.
At the moment, I feel that the strength of animal welfare is based purely on the acts of individuals: vegetarians, vegans, protagonists of free range farming, SPCA inspectors and anti-cruelty campaigners. What we need are effective laws and policies and, more importantly, the implementation of these in a way which contributes to the protection of animals from unnecessary harm and cruelty. Yes, perhaps we need to give animals rights; but for now, I would just like to see justice served.