Editorial: Why I have a voice for those who don't

by Salena Fourie

Human rights are often spoken about and taken into account, but what about the rights of our furry friends who don’t have a voice to speak with?

Animal rights have always been a close passion of mine. Not because of what I’d read or hear about, but mainly because of what I grew up experiencing. Animal rights mean that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration of what is in their best interests.

It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.

Growing up on a farm, more than cats or dogs were my friends. I had donkeys, horses, pigs, lambs, calves and even chickens as pets from a young age. It was then when a curiosity sparked within me. I questioned the fact that it was seen morally acceptable for my pet pig or pet lamb to be killed and treated cruelly, but not my dog or cat?

Since then, I have had a great passion for animal rights and see it be as important as human rights. The results of not practising animal rights even to the tiniest extent are shocking. As seen on 23 February 2019, the Daily News Reporter stated that the SPCA in Durban, Amanzimtoti recorded a total of 423 animals - surrendered, strays abandoned and confiscated, only in January alone.

Despite being as passionate as one can be about animal rights, it is often hard to live in a country that offers a rather unfair and confusing legislation around animal rights. It is exactly this type of legislation that contributed to the confusion I had growing up as a child around the inequality of animals.

South Africa's Animals Protection Act is one that was passed during the Apartheid regime in 1962 and reminds on the statute books. An article by Daily Maverick in 2015 titled 'Not all animals are equal under South African law' hits the nail on the head by portraying the general sentiment of confusion around animal rights in a South African context.

The Act criminalises the mistreatment of “animals”, but defines “animals” in a peculiar way to mean: “any equine, bovine, sheep, goat, pig, fowl, ostrich, dog, cat or other domestic animal or bird, or any wild animal, wild bird or reptile which is in captivity or under the control of any person”.

The Daily Maverick explains that this means the Act prohibits the mistreatment of all domestic animals, but only the mistreatment of wild animals if such wild animals are in captivity or under the control of a person. For example, mistreating a lion held in a zoo will thus apply to the Act, but mistreating the same lion wandering in the Kruger Park will not. Such acts apply similarly to marine life, where for example punching a shark held in an aquarium may, therefore, be a criminal offence, but punching the same shark in the open sea will not.

While some might see animal rights going as far as their domestic pets, I see it applying to all animals. Humans, despite their differences, are by law seen to have the same human rights, but why not animals?

As much as I experienced animals other than the traditional domestic animals to be my pets, I also paid a price in befriending these animals. There is a saying on many farms that one should never name your ‘food’ and that is exactly what I did as a kid, leading to the universal love I have for animals.

I remember raising a piglet or feeding a lamb when I was young, oblivious to the reason as to why I was doing so. Later, both were slaughtered on our farm and then put on our plates. It is then when I decided not to eat meat because I resented the idea of eating my pets.

While some might think that animal cruelty and rights go as far as killing and hurting animals, it is often done in numerous ways that may not seem as bad, such as animal testing or the use of animals for entertainment.

After developing a great love for animals from a young age, I have consciously changed my life to be better for the lives of animals, too. Unfortunately, many people unknowingly use cruel methods that could directly harm as well as encourage harmful practices towards animals.

There is, however, a lot you can do to play your part. This includes simply not using products tested on animals or changing your diet to a plant-based diet. Many cosmetics or cleaning products are tested on animals, which can be force-fed to them or rubbed on their skin, is harmful. One can, like I did, change one’s diet to a plant-based diet, or even start off by eating less meat because this means that you are not contributing to the cruelty of animals for their meat.

While these are only a few things one can do to contribute to animal rights, more tips can be read on Change for Animal Foundation.

Many people have not experienced the same things I have with regards to animals or some are not as passionate as others about animal rights. Despite this, it is important to remember that all living things make up a balanced ecosystem. Within this system, all things have their rightful place and deserve the necessary consideration and respect for that place.

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