300909 SIPHO KHUMALO POLITICAL STAFF WITH only three months before the annual first fruits festival in KwaZulu-Natal, animal welfare representatives from 10 African countries have called on the South African Parliament to denounce parts of the ritual as unbecoming of the modern face of Africa. The Ukweshwana festival, presided over by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, is normally accompanied by a ritual in which young Zulu men kill a bull with their bare hands, considered a test of their courage. However, animal right activists, who met at the first pan-African conference on animal welfare in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, have petitioned the South African Parliament. They warned that it was just months before “another bull is torn apart to die a terrifying and agonising death”. The delegates called for the recognition of animals as sentient, deserving of care, respect and protection. They signed a petition calling on Parliament to halt, with immediate effect, the bare-handed killing of bulls. The first fruits festival is usually held on the first Saturday in December. “We believe that cruelty to animals is not the face of Africa that will see us contributing to global discourse as competent and dignified participants,” said Josphat Ngonyo, director of the Africa Network for Animal Welfare. Countries at the conference included Somalia, Uganda, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and South Africa. Prince Mbonisi Zulu, the spokesman of the Zulu royal house, which is the custodian of the festival, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Animal rights activists want bull killing halted In this file picture, Zulu men herd cattle from among which King Goodwill Zwelithini will select a bull to be killed by men with their bare hands in a demonstration of their courage. Other African nations have called on the government to renounce the practice, arguing that cruelty to animals paints a poorer perception of Africa. PICTURE: GCINA NDWALANE

The controversial ukweshwana (first fruit) ceremony, which ends with the bare-handed killing of a bull by young Zulu men, will take place in Nongoma this weekend, but animal rights activists have vowed to continue their campaign against cruelty to animals.

As young Zulu men poured into eNyonkeni Royal Palace in Nongoma on Wednesday for the ceremony, Steven Smit, of Animal Rights SA, said: “The fact is, this is not about culture. Cruelty is cruelty no matter where it happens… We will continue all legal means to fight against it.”

Two years ago, Animal Rights SA unsuccessfully sought an order in the Pietermaritzburg High Court to have the ceremony stopped.

“This time round we are not taking an urgent action as it will make no difference at this stage,” said Smit.

“It is clear that the state is not going to act against this Zulu tradition.”

This year, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, said communities should not hesitate to continue with the slaughtering of animals as part of their rituals, but should keep animal suffering to a minimum.

A spokesman for the Zulu royal house, Prince Mboneni Zulu, defended the tradition, saying it was a “sacred” ceremony for Zulus at which the nation prayed for a good year and for the strength of the king.