Johannesburg - Sickening images of a frenzied mob trying to slaughter injured cattle from an overturned truck on the N1 highway near Grasmere has triggered a raging debate on social media: Was it poverty or pure lawlessness?

The brutality of the incident has left the public wondering if the people living close to the road are so impoverished that they have no food, or if they were opportunists.

On Tuesday afternoon, the double-decker trailer carrying about 100 cattle overturned near the Grasmere toll plaza on the N1 freeway. A mob soon gathered around armed with knives and buckets.

“They were chasing cattle that had managed to free themselves from the vehicle, some of which had injuries including broken legs. Their intention was to hack meat from the living animals.

“Some animals were unable to escape and were stolen and slaughtered by the frenzied crowd,” said Andries Venter of the NSPCA.

Some of the injured animals were euthanised on the scene, and the SAPS was forced to bring in crowd control units to maintain calm.

Nineteen cattle were killed and 58 stolen, many before emergency services could arrive.

Venter said the mob had allegedly thrown rocks and other objects from the bridge above at the windscreen of the truck causing it to overturn.

The owner of Chalmer Beef, whose cattle were lost during the incident, Willem Wethmar, told The Star that this was what he had been told.

“The truck driver could have been killed,” said Wethmar. Both the driver and co-driver were hospitalised with serious injuries.

Wethmar said intentionally overturning a truck, stealing and inhumanely slaughtering animals were crimes.

Venter told The Star that such incidents were not uncommon. His organisation registered two similar incidents in the Eastern Cape last year, where sheep transport and pig transport were brutally raided for meat.

He said while poverty could motivate such crimes, the inhumane treatment of animals had to be condemned.

President of AgriSA, Johannes Möller, said while these types of incidents were few and happened near poor villages, the treatment of the animals was tragic.

Gerhard Schutte, chief executive of the Red Meat Producers Association, said there were specific codes of conduct in place to ensure cattle were transported humanely, and this incident was a violent breach.

“This is totally unacceptable,” said Schutte.

According to Wethmar, 32 of the cattle were recovered and reached their destination safely.

The NSPCA confirmed this: “The truck and the remaining cattle were taken to the destination farm where SPCA personnel offloaded them.

“The decision to move the truck and the remaining cattle from the scene was taken as night began to fall and the risks to both cattle and rescue personnel increased, even with the presence of the SAPS’s crowd control unit,” said Venter.

He said investigators on the scene were disgusted by the crowd’s behaviour, describing them as “vultures stealing meat”.

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The Star