The show must go on – without animal abuse

Animals regularly appear in adverts but, of course, they do not instinctively know how to act on camera. A few years ago, an advertising agency wanted to show a mouse running along a wall. How would one get such a shot? Mice do not generally move at a speed that would allow for effective filming.

How was the problem resolved on set? The mouse was thrown hard against the wall to stun it and, as it slowly recovered and moved along the wall, the camera was able to film it.

Such cruel practices are supposed to be prevented by an old law in South Africa, the 1935 Performing Animals Protection Act. It requires anyone wanting to use animals in entertainment to apply to a magistrate for a licence, an attempt to offer some protection against their abuse.

Last year the Constitutional Court declared key provisions of the Act unconstitutional; it found that the granting of licences in terms of the Act should not be the judiciary’s job but the executive’s. Parliament was given 18 months to amend these provisions.

This is the first time in post-apartheid South Africa that animal welfare legislation is being changed. The government could have used this opportunity to deal with major changes in the scientific understanding of animal welfare since 1935, but the department of agriculture, which drafted the law, has adopted a minimalist approach that could face constitutional challenges.

First, the purpose of the Act is alluded to and key provisions refer to it, but it is never defined properly. The Act must be clear that its purpose is to protect the welfare of performing animals.

Second, there is very little guidance on the basis the new decision-maker, a “national licensing officer”, will decide to grant a license or not. Guidance must be provided on the criteria for such decisions, including all aspects of the welfare of the animals concerned.

Third, the amendment as it stands provides for national licensing officers to be veterinarians or animal scientists, though the meaning of the latter term is unclear. It may include people without expertise in animal welfare. Moreover, the Act allows the licensing function to be delegated, but does not provide that any such decision-maker has the relevant expertise. Without such provisions, the licensing function will fail to offer much protection to animals.

Finally, there is a need to ensure democratic participation in the process of granting licences. Members of the public and organisations should be able to inform decision-makers so they have a complete picture before granting licences.

Other opportunities have been missed in this amendment. The definition of animal (indicating to what the Act applies) arbitrarily excludes reptiles. We know today that welfare concerns arise in respect of them too. Aquatic animals, such as dolphins and orcas, are often used for entertainment, but the Act does not apply to them either.

Parliament will consider the amendment Bill in public hearings this week. This is an opportunity to place South Africa as a world leader in the protection of the welfare of performing animals. It is hoped that our lawmakers will strengthen the law considerably, ensuring that no mouse is ever thrown against a wall again for the sake of the camera.

David Bilchitz is the director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law at the University of Johannesburg, which has made a submission to Parliament on this Bill, supported by the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Pretoria, the South African Veterinary Association and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

David Bilchitz
Professor, Fundamental Rights, University of Johannesburg; Director, SAIFAC; Secretary General, International Association of Constitutional Law David Bilchitz has over 421 followers on Twitter.

Related stories


Subscribers only

How smuggled gold destined for Dubai or Singapore has links...

Three Malagasy citizens were apprehended at OR Tambo International airport, but now the trail is found to connect to France and Mali

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

More top stories

Spy boss tells how agency was used to detain Zuma’s...

Day two of State Security Agency testimony at the Zondo commission birthed more revelations that point to the former head of state and agents breaking the law

Covax will take excess doses of Covid vaccines off the...

The global initiative plans to deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations

Eastern Cape citizens don’t have to visit the labour department...

This measure, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, may shortly be introduced in other regions.

Covid-19 economic crisis will be felt by the poor for...

The pandemic’s economic fallout will affect the world’s poor for years, while the richest billionaires increase their wealth, an Oxfam report notes

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…