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.”

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