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. (http://ruactivate.wordpress.com/2007/08/09/roar-deal-for-donkeys/)   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 (http://madcaptraveller.wordpress.com/2007/06/05/riding-with-the-donkey-cart-men/). 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 (http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,,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. (http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache:F-t3_de7spQJ:www.atnesa.org/sanat/Starkey-Donkeys-in-SouthAfrica-myths.pdf+donkey+project+south+africa&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=4&gl=za). 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,” (http://www.atnesa.org/donkeys/donkeys-hanekom-transport-ZA.pdf) 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?