In a desperate and seemingly brutal move, the Transport and Community Safety MEC, Bheki Cele, has announced, as part of the road safety plan for the holiday period, that cattle or other animals found to be straying on the roads of KwaZulu-Natal can be shot and killed by traffic officers. The basis for this decision is the number of accidents, including deaths, caused by such animals. In blunt language that will offend some animal lovers, the minister makes it clear that he would prefer to sacrifice animals rather than the lives of human travellers. It is true that the danger of animals on the road makes travel hazardous.
There is a background to this problem that should not be ignored. A major reason for the straying of animals is the theft of fencing alongside public roads. This has been a factor in the slow deterioration on and around roads in recent years. Sometimes, even where fencing still exists, cattle are deliberately allowed on to road verges to graze. This is particularly the case where normal grazing is limited because of soil erosion and overcrowding.
The transport ministry’s desire to deal with this problem is welcome. At the same time, the broader issues should also be faced. Ideally, fencing should be restored, preferably of a kind that is not easy to steal. The capture and impounding of stray animals should be considered at a first resort rather than arbitrary slaughter. More impounding facilities would need to be created. As an additional deterrent, those who allow their animals to wander should be prosecuted in the interests of human safety, for cattle are not masters of their own destiny but the responsibility of their owners.