Do Africans Dare Care About Animals?

Are animal rights the privileged domain of the world’s affluent nations? Dare we, in Africa, care about the well-being of animals while so many of our people are dying of hunger, Aids or in bloody civil conflict?

To care about the well-being of animals in Africa today would seem misplaced?—?callous and indifferent to the plight of our own kind. Anti-human, even. Perhaps not…

This article poses the question: For the sake of Africa and all its people, dare we not care about the well-being of animals? I approach the argument from two angles. The first considers the impact of neglect and disregard for the well-being of animals on society in general and young minds in particular. The second considers the hidden, yet devastating impact of institutionalised animal cruelty, on the Continent as a whole.

1. The government in South Africa decided recently on a temporary black-out of official statistics on rape, murder and child molestation in an effort, inter alia, it is believed, to keep up the country’s morale. Staggering statistics had revealed rape occurred every 25 seconds, that the murder rate was amongst the highest in the world, that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys would be sexually molested before adulthood. In some communities, drive-by shootings and gang warfare in the streets had become commonplace.

Against this backdrop, Mr Wikus Gresse, Chairman of the Parole Board at Pollsmoor Prison near Cape Town, recently made an impassioned plea. ‘Teach people how to care,” he said.
As founder of one of the most successful criminal rehabilitation projects in the world today, known as The Bird Project, Gresse has seen first hand the healing power inherent in the gentle art of caring. The Bird Project enables prisoners to hand-rear Love Birds, Cockatiels and parrots for ultimate sale to avid bird-keepers. “If these people (the prisoners), as youngsters, had been given the chance of humane education, of learning how to care?—?some of them would most probably not be here today,” says Gresse.

Dr Sean Kaliski, head of forensic psychiatry at Valkenberg mental hospital, Cape Town, goes as far as to say that the entire nation’s mental health is diminished by the ubiquitous evidence of animal neglect and cruelty?—?from starving dogs which land up as road kill, to lame cart horses with supporating harness wounds?—?from the bundles of chickens tied together by wings or legs, feebly fluttering in the dust, to the pigs which lie immobilised in the baking sun, waiting to die horrendous deaths often by way of a blunt pocket knife.

He said South Africa, as a whole, would benefit from a national programme to create an awareness of the need to treat animals kindly and with respect. “The link is there,” says Kaliski. “Someone who is cruel and violent to animals will also be so to people. We need to sensitise a desensitised nation and the younger we start, the better.”

The link between animal cruelty and human violence is now well established in socio-psychological circles. At the invitation of the Cape Town based Humane Education Trust (HET), American, Phil Arkow, who is chairman of a national task force in the USA on the prevention of animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, visited South Africa on a lecture tour in early 2000. Says Arkow: “Human violence almost always has its roots in animal cruelty. ” Of particular interest is the fact that animal abuse is now recognized as a sign of mental disorder.

In the last quarter of 2000 The Humane Education Trust was given the opportunity to rekindle a spirit of care and respect for life in 11 of the Western Cape’s most disadvantaged and violence-torn schools. The Western Cape Education Department agreed that humane education, as a pilot project, would get a three-month opportunity to establish its value and benefit to school children. A clinical psychologist with six years experience in the rehabilitation of criminals was employed to assess the impact of the project on a scientific basis.

Details of the what, where and how of this pilot project are clearly shown in the HET’s 21-minute documentary video Caring Classrooms and the psychologist’s final assessment, also available from HET, was that humane education was an “overwhelmingly positive” influence in the lives of the children and should be incorporated in the national schools curriculum.

Most noteworthy to the educators involved in the project, however, was the obvious sense of self-worth which the project generated among the children.

Ironically, in learning the gentle art of caring about the well-being of animals, they also learned to care more about each other, to show more respect for their teachers and most importantly, they developed a sense of their own value as human beings.

Brendan, in Grade 10, put it thus: “Humane Education gave me a new pair of eyes. Everything I look at now I see differently. Nowadays I don’t throw stones at stray dogs anymore and I give that thief-cat that always hangs at our door, our left-over food. I don’t even swear so much anymore and I really feel proud about it.”

Elton, also in Grade 10, said: “For me Humane Education was a great and joyful programme. It made me into a better person. ”
As one of the educators involved in the project noted: “A sense of self-worth and pride in being human is diametrically in opposition to acts of crime and violence.”

This article contends, therefore that we, as a society which yearns for peace and the burgeoning of the African Renaissance, raise our children to be callous and indifferent to the suffering of other living beings at our peril.

2. On the macro-scale, dare we allow an oligopoly of First World Agri-Industrialists to set up in Africa with their massive factory farms, hoping that Africans will still be naive enough to buy into the tired old idea that the cruelty involved in factory farming is a necessary evil in order to feed the poor?

Beset by outbreaks of disease on an unprecedented scale, the tide in Europe has turned away from factory farming, the iniquitous system of keeping huge numbers of animals in close confinement and deprivation, often mutilated to prevent cannibalism. As the tide recedes in Europe however, it is advancing steadily in developing countries as Dutch, Belgian and other agri-farmers colonise huge markets in Africa, Asia and South America with the promise of cheap food.

The truth is, though, the actual cost of ‘cheap food’ is astronomical. The huge hidden costs of intensive farming are estimated to be 2. 3 billion pounds sterling annually in the UK alone.

In a hard-hitting report just released by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) in the UK entitled “The Livestock Revolution: Development or Destruction”, the actual cost of ‘cheap food’ is revealed:
Small-scale farmers cannot compete with the factory farms and go out of business. They are forced to leave rural areas for urban centres where they join the long queue of unemployed. This leads to rural depopulation and increased urban problems such as split families and lowered quality of life.

Factory farms substitute labour with mechanisation causing further loss of livelihoods and a dependence on technological know-how.
Crops are now grown to feed the animals caught up in intensive systems, unable to forage or graze for food on their own. In South Africa 35% of cultivated land is used for animal feed.

Ninety per cent of South Africa is classified by the UN as arid, yet the biggest user of water is irrigation and one-third of this consumption irrigates crops to feed animals in factory farms. It is estimated that irrigation costs included, 100 000 litres of water are used to produce 1kg of beef?—?i. e. 100 times more water produces 1kg of beef compared to 1kg of wheat.

The intensive live-stock industry is dependent on toxic chemicals leading to pollution of soil, plants and waterways.

Human health suffers as overuse of antibiotics on the factory farm leads to disease-causing bugs becoming resistant to the drugs which combat them. It is for this reason that the Food and Drug Administration in the USA is now seeking to ban the use of certain antibiotics in intensive farming.

Indigenous stock, resistant to disease, heat and able to survive on marginal grazing, are replaced by more productive imported breeds which grow more quickly but cannot withstand the harsh environment.

18 million people around the world die from malnutrition or starvation annually while a staggering 95% of world soybean production, for example, is used to feed animals on intensive farms to produce meat mainly to satisfy meat dependent First World countries.

As Janice Cox, co-author of the CIWF report says: “It is time to call a halt to the global growth of factory farming… . to take time out to review the hard-learned lessons of the USA and Europe and assess how this deadly development can be halted, and energies redirected to growing food that is gentle to the animals and the environment, as well as being healthy and safe to eat, affordable and accessible to the poorest of the poor.”

I ask you: DARE WE, as Africans, allow the third millennium to be blighted by the colonisation of Africa by Agri-Industrialists? I don’t think so!