More than 70 000 South African sheep are involved in a “ping pong match” as the saga continues between animal welfare organisations and the livestock transport and trade industry.
If everything goes to plan, the Grahamstown High Court in Makhanda will today deliver its verdict on the matter dragging since March 2020. This was when the Kuwait-based global livestock trade giant Al Mawashi entered into an off-take agreement over the export of sheep produced by small-holder, livestock farmers in South Africa.
These farmers, who were hoping that the international deal might realise their dreams of becoming commercial entrepreneurs, now hang in the balance, says deputy executive director of Agri SA, Christo van der Rheede.
It has turned into a legal battle putting a R16 million deal at risk. The NSPCA is butting heads with Al Mawashi, with the animal welfare organisation describing the live export of sheep as a form of animal abuse which should be stopped immediately.
“This is an opportunity for our farmers, especially our farmers that have been enduring a drought for many years, and have now found the answer to their long suffering in the export of animals to foreign countries,” says Van der Rheede in a Food For Mzansi interview.
The shipment of live animals were expected to set sail for the United Arab Emirates early in June when it was intercepted and interdicted by the NSPCA. Its spokesperson Meg Wilson says, “There is an array of cruelty concerns on these voyages, from physical to mental suffering (of the more than 70 000 sheep).”
The NSPCA argues that the Al Mawashi shipment and vessels do not comply with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines and the animal protection act. Al Mawashi rubbishes the NSPCA’s claims and instead accuses them of “peddling fake news.”
While the farmers await the Grahamstown High Court verdict, the sheep are being held at a feeding lot in East London.
Van der Rheede believes that South African farmers’ rights to grow their enterprising efforts are being infringed upon. The assumption that a farmer would endanger the life of livestock they produced is rather perplexing, he says. “No farmer will be careless and negligent enough to endorse any project that will lead to the abuse or death of an animal. A dead animal has no value. A live and a well-fed animal has much more value (in the livestock industry).”
Expensive waiting game
It has become a waiting game worth millions of rands, adds Van der Rheede. And as the clock ticks, the predicament of the many farmers who would have benefitted from the off-take agreement will worsen.
“Given the terrible economic circumstances in the country, given the levels of unemployment and given the fact that the purchasing power of the public has been negatively impacted, this would have been an opportunity for farmers to earn high-levels of income,” he says.
This is especially meaningful for emerging farmers that support large families, Van der Rheede argues. “It will lead to a perpetuation of poverty and ultimately create terrible future prospects for farmers who want to build their flocks and become commercial farmers in their own right.”
Northern Cape farmer Mandisi Nofumba tells GO! & Express they needed more opportunities like this as it allowed them to earn a decent income. “The agreement (with Al Mawashi) will enable me to expand my business and has opened us up to new revenues. We are also busy with proposals to develop a training centre in Richmond, where our focus will be on training youth in the agricultural sector.”
Red Meat Producers’ Organisation chief executive Gerhard Schutte tells Food For Mzansi the matter is sub judice, and they are therefore declining public comment. They are, however, eagerly waiting today’s high court judgement.