The town of Bela-Bela (meaning ‘boiling-boiling’ in Tswana language) in South Africa takes its name from the hot springs around which the town was based. The town’s baths have now been replaced by agriculture as the mainstay of the local economy and the town is growing on the back of the maize (locally known as ‘mealies’) and other products grown in the area. This growth means more construction and, where rivers once flowed near town, people dig sand to transport to construction sites using donkeys for making cement.
Bela-Bela is currently also the venue for The Donkey Sanctuary’s networking workshop, bringing together our African allies from across the continent to share with each other, learn from each other and explore ways to improve the welfare of donkeys and bring about positive changes in the lives of people that rely on them. Today, we drove out to the Bela-Bela township to see some of the sand-collectors and their donkeys and to find out more about both donkeys’ and people’s lives.
As well as an opportunity to practice assessing welfare using The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Hand’ tool, it was great to see everyone interact with the people that rely on donkeys and the donkeys themselves. The workshop delegates (made up of 32 people from ten countries across our African donkey-welfare network) spent time getting to know the community by teaching the local children how to say ‘hello’ in their many languages, helping the sand-collectors load their carts with sand while talking about their donkeys’ work, helping to fix some basic problems with their carts, such as a flat tyre, and identifying the welfare status and concerns of the donkeys. The heavy carts and poor harnessing were causing wounds and the communication between the men and the donkeys relied on a whip, which was also causing wounds. This welfare data and relationship-building work is essential for the NSPCA (who are starting to work around Bela-Bela) to understand the problems and make plans to address them.
Just before we headed back to our workshop venue, we met with some children who gave us quite a treat. After seeing the damage that the men’s whips had caused, it was delightful to see three boys driving a cart with three donkeys who, instead of whips, were using a plastic bottle with a few stones inside as a rattle to tell the donkeys to move forwards. The whole welfare picture of the donkeys may not have been perfect but it was great to see a positive example of communication between the children and the donkeys as well as understanding that pain is unnecessary.
Today’s eye-opening trip has been really useful for people to frame their discussions about welfare and the work that they do for donkeys, especially for the people who have travelled from outside South Africa. We certainly have plenty to talk about this week!