Animal Welfare: The Necessity for Restructuring

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesgovernance, legislation, welfare

In a recent article in Daily Maverick, Pierre de Vos highlighted the need for a revision of South African animal anti-cruelty law:

“I would suggest that it would be helpful to have an honest debate about the issue. If we have to justify why we wish to have some animals protected from cruelty while others are not, it might force us to rethink our attitude towards animals. In any case, whether such a debate occurs or not, it seems to me the time has come to review the outdated legislation on the issue of animal cruelty.” ~ Pierre de Vos,

I agree. The Animals Protection Act is currently under revision by DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests), and it is a timely process. The APA is hopelessly inconsistent in respect of it’s application to the different ways in which we categorise animals. The categories – ‘companion’, ‘food’, ‘performing’, ‘wild’, and ‘service’ animals are all regarded differently by humans, whether from a functional or ethical perspective. These categories are arbitrarily defined by human needs; the differences between a horse (companion/performing/service animal) and a cow (food animal) are negligible, but due to human commodification of animals, they are treated differently. That this is inconsistent should be obvious, The existing APA tries to be all things to all animals, and in so doing does nothing for any. Animal Agriculture breaks every provision in the APA on a daily basis, but the public looks the other way…

But there is also an urgent need to revise the structure of animal welfare in South Africa. Animal welfare organisations are under significant pressure, operating under greater demands from a diminishing resource base.

There are more than 250 animal welfare organisations in South Africa, of which 89 are SPCA’s, 6 are AACL’s and 5 are Animal Welfare Society members. The rest are independents, who have not become SPCA’s because they differ in principle with SPCA policies. The NSPCA, the governing and controlling body of the SPCA’s, is unwilling to work with other organisations and has historically insisted on taking a dominant and even dictatorial role in animal welfare issues in SA. Their influence on legislation carries disproportionate weight, partly because Government has informally granted them greater access to decision-makers and more input into issues pertaining to animal welfare.

At a time when vast parts of the country are without SPCA’s or any other animal welfare bodies, one would have expected the number of Societies to grow in order to meet the ever increasing animal welfare needs. During the past 10 years or so the number of SPCA’s has actually declined after closure of Societies. In some cases the NSPCA have taken over Management of local SPCA branches.. Large parts of SA remain without the services of any animal welfare organisation or body. Even the largest franchise, the SPCA, covers less than 30% of SA. Furthermore in addition to totally inadequate coverage, many bodies function without properly qualified staff or volunteers in respect of animal husbandry, first aid, or legal knowledge.

Many people incorrectly see the NSPCA as the “Head Office” of the SPCA franchise, as in large corporation structures. This has allowed the NSPCA to “boss” Societies when in fact the only mandate the NSPCA has is to inspect and monitor Societies to ensure that they function within the prescribed parameters of the SPCA Act and the Rules formulated under the SPCA Act.

At the same time, the pro-life independent sector has grown and continues to do so, with more and more organisations surfacing to combat what has now become a crisis in which the available resource base is still insufficient to meet the demands placed upon it by an ignorant and self-indulgent society. The growth of independent pro-life organisations is more than anything else an indicator that the SPCA philosophy and ethos is incompatible with animal-lovers’ aspirations and expectations. It has been a long time since the last SPCA was founded.

The NSPCA claims that it is the only organisation that may qualify and register Inspectors and this is partly due to a lack of knowledge on the part of other welfare organisations and partly due to their lack of resources. Other organisations have been known to employ and register inspectors, notably Barking Mad, Wetnose and AACL Up until now, there has been no law stating that only the NSPCA may train or qualify Inspectors.

In the Animal Protection Bill, gazetted 30 Nov 2107, which focuses on protection for animal in research and animal testing, there is a provision that is worrying:

5. Section 8 of the principal Act is hereby amended by the addition after subsection (4) of the following subsection:
‘‘(5) An officer contemplated in sub-section (1) shall have an inspector’s qualification recognised by the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals established by section 2(1) of the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1993 (Act No. 169 of 1993).’’.

Section (1) states: If authorized thereto by writing under the hand of the magistrate of a district, any officer of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals may in that district…
“any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals” means any welfare organisation; it is in small letters not caps so it does not refer to SPCA’s, as stated in de Vos’ article. The term was only specified to mean SPCA’s in the SPCA Act in 1993; a term cannot be made to apply retrospectively to legislation enacted 32 years before.
This additional provision means (implied by the word ‘shall’) that only an inspector qualification recognised by NSPCA may be an officer in terms of the Act. Not only is this anticompetitive and therefore unconstitutional, but also indicates the known NSPCA ambition to be the ‘head’ of animal welfare in SA.

By doing this, NSPCA is attempting to ensure that only inspectors trained by them will be qualified. I think this is a major problem in that it propagates the NSPCA mindset in perpetuity (the current training and qualifications are prejudiced in favour of the SPCA ethos), and reinforces the idea, in the public mind, that the NSPCA has authority over other welfare organisations. I would also argue that the current inspector qualification omits two important competencies; animal ethics and animal ethology.

The development and qualification of inspectors should be administered by an independent body. If all inspectors are trained and employed by NSPCA, then it is the organisations’ agenda that will be driven rather than the needs of the animals or the animal-loving public. The police should be independent of any organisation, in the principle of separation of the state and judiciary. The NSPCA is just an NPO. The fact that it is governed by an Act of Parliament does not confer on it any special powers; the Act is merely an internal governance document.

Why did the NSPCA develop an Act of Parliament in order to govern SPCA’s, given that the SPCA Act is nothing more than a governance document and has no application to other welfare organisations? Why was it necessary to promulgate an Act for an internal governance document? Was it created in mind of ambitions to be recognised as the legal governing body of animal welfare in SA? If it was, it must be opposed. It makes no sense to allow an organisation that is top-down, ‘power’ oriented, with an ethos that is demonstrably losing relevance, as well as a controlling mindset, to be granted greater influence and control over animal welfare issues.

In addition, why is Dr MM Mathonsi of the Directorate Veterinary Public Health, DAFF on the Board? Surely the Dept of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, which supports the abuses of animal agriculture in SA, has an agenda in continuing their exploitation and abuse? Is the presence of a DAFF official not a conflict of interests? Dr Mathonsi heads up the Directorate Veterinary Public Health, which means his primary goal is to ensure human health and safety in the use (exploitation) of animals. The animals themselves are commodities and their well-being is instrumental in relation to the protection of humans; so whether they are in pain or suffering emotional deprivation is not a consideration. It seems a double standard to have a fox in the group overseeing the henhouse.

The exclusion of independents in issues pertaining to animal welfare such as legislation, policy, policing and roles also implies that all the thought leadership is contained within the NSPCA. Given the degree to which the SPCA franchise have been late adopters of innovations like the Internet and social media, and the fact that they do very little education and sterilisation, (no ‘prevention’, mainly reaction) they are arguably exactly the wrong type of organisation and culture to be given authority or a leadership mandate for animal welfare in South Africa.

Who governs the NSPCA and who inspects SPCA’s? Are they automatically above reproach? When allegations have been levelled at SPCA branches for negligence or cruelty, the NSPCA has closed ranks, and the issue has ‘gone away’.

Authority must vest in the community, not in an aging Dinosaur that is no longer in tune with the public ethos, which is cognisant of the sentience of animals and changing in respect of ethical consideration of animals.

It’s time for all organisations and individuals in SA with an interest in the well-being of animals to talk about restructuring the animal welfare sector. As it stands, it is not inclusive, coherent or consistent.


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