Farmers, Eastern Cape towns in wandering cattle battle
Legal battles are being waged against Eastern Cape municipalities by farmers desperate to stave off bio-security health threats endangering meat exports and the lives of livestock worth billions of rands.
In the latest legal battle, the Eastern Cape High Court in Makhanda granted Agri Eastern Cape and the Komga Farmers Association (KFA) an order compelling the Great Kei municipality to ensure no animals within the municipality’s boundary roam free.
The KFA represents both commercial and emerging farmers.
The order is the fourth that Agri Eastern Cape has obtained in the past four years against provincial municipalities failing to enforce bylaws designed to prevent the outbreak of infectious animal diseases.
Gerhard Neethling, the Red Meat Abattoir Association’s general manager, said the dangers to the economy from an outbreak of infectious animal diseases, commonly spread through roaming animals, are huge.
“The three diseases which can kill off SA’s meat export industries are foot-and-mouth in cloven-hoofed animals, swine flu and avian flu.
“These diseases are internationally notifiable. One cow infected with foot-and-mouth brings the entire R22bn red meat export industry to a grinding halt, with all exports stopped until importers are satisfied that our cattle are disease-free.”
He said movement control is crucial for disease control.
But for many farmers the order has come too late, with livestock worth millions of rands culled in the past year to halt the spread of infectious diseases.
In the latest order, handed down in March, judge Gerald Bloem instructed the Great Kei municipality to seize and impound all roaming animals.
KFA chair Coert Jordaan said they launched the court action after a five-year battle with the municipality.
“We were left no choice. The municipality ignored our requests for help. Communal and emerging farmers’ livestock are also in danger.”
Komga cattle farmer Spololo Welani said he prayed daily his animals would not become sick.
“Some of these diseases, where the animals suddenly lose their calves, I have never seen in our area before.”
Welani said he looked after his cattle “as they are my bread and butter [but] the municipality does nothing to stop unknown livestock from roaming here”.
Komga Beefmaster stud farmer Pierre Hart said last year was the first time he had to cull animals. On one of his farms he slaughtered six bulls worth R100,000 each and 60 cows worth R20,000 each.
“Once an infected bull is in your herd you have to slaughter,” he said. “The diseases reduce conceptions. From this outbreak we had a 40% conception reduction in our herd of 400 cows.”
He said a potentially devastating animal disease crisis is unfolding.
“There have been pockets of highly infectious diseases such as TB and contagious abortion 300km away around Gqeberha, which, though contained, is worrying.”
Hart said if herds become infected with TB or contagious abortion, the entire herd has to be culled.
Brent McNamara, Agri Eastern Cape CEO, said the March order is one of four obtained against provincial municipalities.
“We have similar orders against Ndlambe municipality [Port Alfred], Enoch Mgijima municipality [Komani] and Inxuba Yethemba municipality [Cradock].
“At the rate animals roam freely we are bracing ourselves for a major animal health crisis.
“In May, African swine fever broke out in the province, with pockets of contagious abortions occurring on dairy farms around Gqeberha last year.”
McNamara said the government is establishing important bio-security legislation, but municipalities are not implementing it.
Lawrence Mambila, Great Kei municipality municipal manager, said it will abide by the order.
“There is a serious problem with roaming livestock. We have repeatedly engaged with the KFA and communal farmers to find solutions, including providing access to fenced commonage for grazing for animals and municipal shepherds. The communal farmers were not interested. They wanted farms, which we said we cannot afford.”
National agriculture spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo failed to respond to questions.