EMS Foundation Address at the Four Paws State of Animal Welfare in South Africa Event

Michele Pickover, Executive Director of the EMS Foundation and founding member of WAPFSA delivered an address at WAPFSA close colleagues’, Four Paws South Africa, event in Cape Town on Friday evening 10th May 2024. The subject matter is extremely relevant considering that South Africans will be voting in the seventh democratic general election on the 29th May 2024.

“I cannot really talk about the Wildlife Animal Protection Forum of South Africa – WAPFSA for short – without referring to the historical context, because it has a lot to do with where WAPFSA is located and what we focus on.

In 1994, those of us that had been fighting the animal protection battle for years, were optimistic that our new democracy would also bring positive changes for non-human animals in South Africa – precisely because of the systemic commonalities which oppress both humans and nonhumans. Clearly, other animals were also victims of the systems of colonialism and apartheid. In essence, what we were advocating for – and still advocate for – is inclusive justice – one struggle – showing compassion across the species barrier and building a better future in a post-Apartheid South Africa.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed – and I quote – “I have seen at first- hand how injustice gets overlooked when the victims are powerless or vulnerable, when they have no one to speak up for them and no means of representing themselves. Animals are in precisely that position. Unless we are mindful of their interests, and speak out loudly on their behalf, abuse and cruelty goes unchallenged.”

Other animals are sentient, conscious, feeling, and thinking beings; they have complex needs and relations; they have a will to live; and they play key roles in ecological systems necessary for our own existence. They have a life before they are traded, captured, enslaved, hunted and killed. They have agency. Indeed, they have their own cultures and traditions.

Nonetheless, they are conveniently kept in large amorphous groups and then disassembled and packaged in ways that reinforce the collective and conceal their individuality. They are viewed as a source of income, or as part of an aesthetically pleasing landscape, mere scenery – a backdrop to human activities. They are refigured, devoid of identities and, to all intents and purposes, almost invisible and imaginary.

If our non-human compatriots could speak our languages though, they would tell us they do not want to be our food, our trophies, our entertainment or our research tools.

After the death of apartheid, there was a window of opportunity for inclusive justice to be part of the process of building a new society and for the interests of non-human animals to be included in our new Constitution. Sadly, this never happened. And in relation to “wild animals,” there was no transformation of policies – but rather a seamless continuation – and in many ways a speeding up of existing exploitative practices and beneficiaries, including the so-called “wildlife industry”.

Historically, South Africa has always taken a pro-consumptive use stance in relation to wild animals. In the past it was so that a few people could benefit and have private hunting grounds. Now it is located within the language of development.

So, in a very real sense the South African government was – and still is – a formidable barrier to those fighting for justice for animals. In the wild life space, government was also only meeting with industry – via the Wildlife Forum – and, consequently, their agendas were driving government policies. Indeed, it is because the State was not taking any legislative responsibility that it has, to all intents and purposes, outsourced and devolved animal welfare issues to under-resourced animal welfare NGOs.

This is all particularly concerning because we are living in the Anthropocene Sixth Extinction Crisis. And humanity is the cause of this catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems which is killing species and disrupting vast intricate webS of life. Currently there is an average 69% decline in wildpopulations globally. This is of existential importance.

Clearly, our fates are intertwined, and what we do to wild life, we do to ourselves. Because nature is in trouble, we are in trouble. Further massive losses in biodiversity can be prevented, BUT only through radical TRANSFORMATIVE change”. The world is speeding headlong toward disaster in flagrant disregard of science. And rhetoric, policy-making, and global agreements thus far have amounted to very little. A new moral compass, is desperately needed to guide and inform the institutional and conceptual changes necessary in this world.

So…..getting back to South Africa. There was no channel available for animal protection organisations to address their concerns to the government.

WAPFSA was therefore explicitly set up and designed as a vehicle to engage with the government on wild life issues and to put wild animals onto the political agenda, on the basis of ethical and compassionate conservation and harmonious coexistence within nature.

Our members share clearly articulated principles that are part of our Founding Document, initiated in 2016.

Our common goal is to safeguard and protect wild animals and their welfare and well-being, as well as biodiversity, individual species, individual animals and the interests of fragile people. All our activities are underpinned by an understanding that the inter-relationship between environmental protection, animal well-being, conservation and the values of dignity, compassion and humaneness are foundational to our constitutional democracy. We also advocate for the concepts of UBUNTU, the intrinsic value of wild animals and an integrative policy approach.

Also key to WAPFSA’s activities is the understanding that there is an urgent need to reimagine human-animal relations and that animal welfare and climate change are intertwined.

Currently there are 30 organisational members of WAPFSA – including other large networks and movements, for example The Climate Justice Charter Movement. The WAPFSA members span various areas of expertise, including: advocacy; education; Rights, Welfare, Conservation and Faith based approaches; species specialists; rescue and rehabilitation; legal and litigation; research; investigation; conflict mitigation and mediation; food sovereignty; community support and engagement; and indigenous knowledge.

Where there were previously silos, WAPFSA fosters collaboration, solidarity, unity, and action- to powerfully and collectively – lobby, campaign, mainstream and provide solutions to critical challenges and burning issues facing wild animals, nature and people in South Africa.

To conclude, WAPFSA’s strength lies in our unified approach to addressing these pressing issues from DIVERSE perspectives in an ethos of care and within the framework of inclusive social justice, so that our society can be transformed and so that we can all become good citizens of the BIO community. ALUTA CONTINUA AND THANK YOU.”

©WAPFSA 2024. All Rights Reserved.



The Presidency, Republic of South Africa, Tuynhuis, Private Bag X1000, Cape Town 8000

Friday, 2 October 2020


Your Excellency President Ramaphosa, 


On Heritage Day, 24th September 2020, President Ramaphosa said that: 

“The naming and renaming of towns and cities forms part of building a united nation, as well as the erection of new statues and monuments.  Monuments glorifying our divisive past should be repositioned and relocated.  This has generated controversy, with some saying we are trying to erase our history.  But we make no apologies for this.  Any symbol, monument or activity that glorifies racism, that represents our ‘ugly’ past has no place in a democratic South Africa.  The struggle against apartheid was first and foremost aimed at ensuring that all our people should reclaim their dignity, black and white.  Restoring dignity is the preoccupation of this administration.”

The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa (WAPFSA) is a Forum made up of individuals representing environmental, conservation and wildlife protection organisations, these include experts from the scientific, conservation, legal, welfare, animal rights, tourism, social justice and public advocacy sectors. 

WAPFSA would like President Ramaphosa to also consider acknowledging the fact that the zoos in South Africa are lasting monuments to the colonialist ideology of capturing indigenous people, wild animals and plants and keeping them on display.  Menageries of the 18th century brought indigenous people and “exotic” animals to Western society and zoos today are a constant painful reminder of this practise. 

From the very beginning of South Africa’s history, colonists exercised their control and authority. At first they controlled the Khoikhoi people and simultaneously crafted racist and sexists ideologies about the culture of all indigenous people they encountered as they moved north. Travelogues that circulated in Europe described Africa as being uncivilised. They enforced the belief that it was in Africa’s best interest to be colonized by European settlers. 

Human zoos, also known as ethnological expositions, were well documented 19th and 20th century exhibitions of humans.  These displays emphasised the cultural difference between Europeans of Western civilization and non-Europeans who practised a lifestyle which was deemed more primitive. 

One of the most well-known examples of ethnological expositions in our history is the one that took place in 1810, when Saartjie Baartman a Khoikhoi was taken to England.  On the 10th January 1811 at the New Theatre in London a pantomime called “The Hottentot Venus” was featured at the end of the evenings entertainment.   Saartjie Baartman was the so-called Hottentot who was displayed, people were allowed to touch her for a fee. In 1814 Saartjie Baartman was sold to an animal trainer and taken to Paris where she was exhibited as a “freak’.  Even in death, she became the object of scientific and medical research. Her genitals, her brain and a death cast of her body were displayed until 1985.  After five years of negotiation her remains were returned to South Africa on the 3rd May 2002. 

In the 1870’s exhibitions of exotic populations became popular in various countries.  Human zoos could be found in Paris, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan and New York City.   Wild animal merchants in Europe exhibited Africans and wild animals. In 1925 a display at Belle Vue zoo in Manchester, in England was entitled “Cannibals” and featured black Africans depicted as savages.  In 1958 a Congolese village was displayed at the Brussels World’s Fair.  The history of human zoos is long and very painful.  

In 2020 South Africa still has colonial contructs―zoos―which reinforce notions of conquest, control and “Othering’. The purpose for these zoos, the practice of keeping wild nonhuman animals captive is a source of contention.  Debates regarding individual animal rights and animal welfare is especially relevant now.  

The government zoo in Bloemfontein had to be closed recently because the animals were left to themselves, animals died of starvation.  There are still government zoos in Pretoria, Johannesburg and East London.  The budget to run these facilities could be better spent on real education.

If we are going to consider ourselves to be post-colonial then we need to shed the colonial narrative and remove wild animals from cages.  There is a renewed global focus on racism and the violent colonial history is being highlighted worldwide. South Africa should lead the way, we do not need colonial styled zoos in South Africa instead these facilities could become centres of virtual and immersive technologies, libraries and places of education and study.  

It became apparent during the global COVID_19 pandemic that children and students needed places where they could access high-speed WIFI in order to continue their studies.  Children and students need large areas of safe space to study.  The zoos in South Africa could be turned into such facilities.  The education of South Africans about our diverse environment and wildlife can continue with live-streamed safari experiences to audiences at these facilities.  Lectures could be delivered.  The positive educational possibilities are endless. 

We eagerly await your positive response.  

Megan Carr Rhinos in Africa

Chief Stephen Fritz, leader of the South Peninsula Khoi Council

Winter Worsthorne Founder Animal Talk Africa                                                                           

Sai African Climate Alliance                                                     

Jennie Trethowan Founder Baboon Matters                                                                    

Smaragda Louw Director Ban Animal Trading                                                            

Toni Brockhoven Chairperson Beauty Without Cruelty (South Africa)                            

Peter Oxford Founder Betty’s Bay Baboon Action Group                         

Samantha Dewhirst Director Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education              

Michele Pickover Director EMS Foundation                                                                

Fiona Miles Director Four Paws (SA)                                                                     

Anna Centura Co-Founder Future 4 Wildlife                                                                  

Jabu Myeni Environmental Education, Gifted for Good                                                                    

Linda Tucker CEO Founder Global White Lion Protection Trust                                  

Les Mitchell Director Institute for Critical Animal Studies (Africa)                  

Steve Smit Co-Founder Monkey Helpline

Kim Da Ribeira Director OSCAP-Outraged SAfrican Citizens Against Poaching

Vivien Law Parliament for the People                                                   

Lex Abnett Director Southern African Fight for Rhinos                                    

Dave Du Toit Founder Vervet Monkey Foundation                                                

Sera Farista Youth Climate Group                                                          

Guy Jennings Director WildAid Southern Africa                                                    

Image Credit: Daily Mail United Kingdom with the following text: The horrifying industry was also active in Europe. An African girl is shown at the 1958 Expo in Brussels, Belgium that featured a “Congo Villiage” with visitors watching her from behind wooden fences

© 2020 WAPFSA. All rights reserved