The plight of donkeys and their owners

29 04 2008

By Bianca Silva,

Travelling through the Grahamstown townships one cannot help but notice two things, firstly the contrast in lifestyle between the suburbs and the township and then secondly the amount of donkeys and goats that wander freely through the streets. The reality for many of the township residents is that these donkeys provide a livelihood, transport and a means for people to support their families. This has been pointed out in both student newspapers at Rhodes University, Activate and the Oppidan Press. Travelling through town donkey carts are also a common spectacle. However maintaining the health of these animals as well as buying and maintaining the necessary equipment is expensive. A new harness costs up to R600 and the need for frequent farrier visits is not always a viable option as donkey owners are mostly live in poverty, however if the donkeys’ feet are not well maintained there is the possibility that the animal will become permanently lame. The lack of resources and lack of sufficient education available to the owners is what makes onlookers believe that these donkeys are mistreated. However unintentional the poor state of the donkey is, it is threatening the livelihood of donkey owners as well as causing suffering to the donkeys. According to Katherine Townshend, founder of the ROAR Donkey Deal, a society which is currently making a transition to become an NGO, “Donkeys provide people with a livelihood, so they do not want their donkey to get sick or die,” explains Townshend. (   The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will confiscate donkeys which they believe are not being taken proper care of and charge a R400 release fee. According to Annerie Wolmaraans of the Makana Donkey association some donkey owners make up to R60 a day ( The R400 fee donkey owners will have to pay to have their donkeys released from the SPCA is almost as much as a donkey owner would make in a month, without this money both the donkey owners and their families would suffer.

The ROAR Donkey Deal facilitates clinics once every two weeks, a space where donkey owners can bring their donkeys free of charge. The Donkey Deal employs farriers to take care of the donkeys’ feet and the members of the NGO disinfect cuts as well as helping owners to learn how to effectively look after their donkeys. The Donkey Deal is in the process of raising funds, although once they have successfully made their transition from society to NGO they can seek national funding. According to Townshend these funds can be spent on harnesses for the donkeys as well as on creating a tagging system. As it stands many donkey owners use scissors to cut markings on the donkeys’ ears as a means of showing possession. These cuts have the opportunity of becoming infected as well as causing complications in the instance of donkey theft. A person wanting to steal a donkey will often cut off the part of the ear which bears a marking. Townshend says she often sees donkeys walking around with bleeding ears.

On a national scale, as shown by a specific case in Polokwane, donkeys are a potentially untapped resource, which could aid public transport in rural areas and enable poorer people not to feel the effects of rising petrol prices as heavily. In Mogalakweng, Polokwane a R2.5m donkey cart pilot project was launched in 2004 in the Waterberg district (,,2-7-1442_1552993,00.html). The donkey carts are apparently popular with tourists, according to the provincial transport minister, Phuti Mabelebele. The donkey owners in the province were being provided with aid from the municipality as well as being taught how to effectively care for their donkeys.

According to Paul Starkey’s study on donkey misconception there is room for the expansion of use for donkeys. ( Starkey says donkeys have a potential to make a valuable contribution towards development strategies because of their ability to provide transport at low costs and provide a livelihood for people in poorer areas. According to him there are over 40 million donkeys world wide with a quarter of those residing in Africa. Starkey states that over one million people benefit from donkeys in Southern Africa, a number which he believes will continue to grow in time as “donkeys prove invaluable in rural areas as cheap, affordable and sustainable power sources for agriculture and transport that complement both engine power and human power.” According to Dirk Hanekom in his piece “The use of donkeys for transport in South Africa,” ( the average South African donkey can carry up to 76kg, although in a double drawn carriage donkeys could pull up to 700kg on a flat road, including the cart and 400kg on a slope. This shows that donkeys can be used as a cheap means of transporting goods, however slow it may be.

However even if people can use donkey power more effectively it will not eradicate the amount of poverty in South Africa, however it may help to soften the effects of it for those able to use donkeys, a small grace. A question however remains, is it the job of NGO’s to fulfil the service of providing resources and education to donkey owners or should that be the job of the municipality? How can the plight of donkeys and donkey owners be successfully decreased?




8 responses

30 04 2008

As someone who is from Limpopo, we don’t abuse donkeys because we know that they are our sources of income as a result we don’t need education about the donkeys. Sometimes people talk something that they don’t have first hand experience, for example, the issue of donkeys bleeding, you will find that the person who said this only saw one donkey bleeding and made his own conclusions.

Cutting marks on donkeys is a traditional thing and the wounds heals after a short period. I agree with you if you say it causes complications in terms of donkey theft, but tell me what other strategy can we use to identify donkeys. This strategy of cutting also applies to chickens, the Limpopo people cuts toes and remove some of the feathers of the chicken, so that they will know their chickens and they don’t get confused with the ones of their neighbours. Similarly goats are also victim of ear marking.

The reason for this is that a lot of rural people rely on domestic animals. People do fight for a donkey, chicken or a goat so the marking process works very well as far as I know. Some claim that beating a donkey is an abuse, I don’t think so, the only way you can force a donkey is to beat it. Go to Limpopo during summer when a lot of people start ploughing you will see that beating is the only strategy they can use to force a donkey plough.

5 05 2008

The best is to write your name somewhere in the body of the animal. Where I come from, we paint the faces of our donkeys. Anyway, Is it true that you also cut the ears of your chilren so that you can identify them in case they get lost?

6 05 2008

Sherrif, you paint the faces of your donkeys, because you have got a lot of paint to waste unlike rural people. How many times do you paint your donkeys per year ? Children’s ears don’t need to be cut, because most of them are born with marks and they know the people they belong to. Sherriff, where are you from I would love to buy one of your donkeys, provided you own some.

1 09 2008

Good day!,

23 10 2009

Hi, Could you please help me to acquire a schematic drawing or plans for a two donkey cart, pereferably with four wheels and suspension. Brakes as well please. We run a private donkey sanctuary for abused donkieys in George since 1999, and we are in the process of trying to assist donkey owners in the Baviaans area, with the kind cooperation of Karroo Animal Protection Society, to be more humane towards their charges, especially with regard to the types of carts and harnessing that they are using at present. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

We eagerly await your reply.

LeRoi Willmore
Barnyard Donkey Sanctuary

23 10 2009

Please assist us if possible as per the above comment.
Thank you

LeRoi Willmore
Barnyard Donkey Sanctuary

30 06 2010
Peta Jones

Why does nobody ask me ? A new edition of ‘Donkeys for Development’ is available on CD, and there is now also a lot of information about donkey-drawn vehicles, harnesses, not to mention the management and treatment of donkeys in resource-poor contexts on the website:

6 04 2011

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