Former North West premier and current chairwoman of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Johannesburg - National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairwoman Thandi Modise says she “loved” the pigs which were allegedly discovered starving to death on her farm, some of which had resorted to cannibalism.

There is a possibility that she could face up to a year behind bars if she is found guilty of neglecting dozens of animals on her Potchefstroom, North West, farm as pressure mounts against her.

“The suffering that the animals endured does not compare to the financial loss that I suffered,” Modise said on Monday in a statement regarding the alleged neglect of dozens of animals. This caused an uproar on social media as she seemed to imply her finances were more important than the neglect.

But Modise’s spokesman, Neo Moepi, said on Tuesday morning that she was “not only misunderstood, she was misquoted”.

“What she was saying was that despite losing money and investment in the farm, what was of even more great importance was the loss of livestock because she was so attached to the animals.”

Andries Venter, the manager of the NSPCA’s Farm Animal Protection Unit, said this morning investigators were still removing the animals’ carcasses from the farm.

He said they expected their docket to be ready for police “by the end of the week”.

The NSPCA confirmed in a statement on Tuesday “that criminal charges in terms of the Animal Protection Act will be laid against all involved whose actions or negligence led to animals suffering."

Political and public outrage has snowballed since the Sunday Independent broke the story at the weekend that Modise was being investigated for the prolonged death, starvation and thirst of livestock at her farm.

The Sunday Independent reported that the animals were left without water, possibly for up to two weeks, and were found by SPCA officials on Saturday.

This resulted in 58 dead pigs, with the remaining 85 pigs cannibalising rotting carcasses and forced to drink their own urine. In addition, 16 goats and sheep as well as several chickens and geese succumbed to neglect. SPCA officials were forced to euthanase 107 pigs and dozens of other animals.

Venter said they were unsure what could happen if Modise was eventually found guilty of neglect because they had never had “such a high-profile case”.

“In a regional court the maximum sentence is R60 000 or, according to the Animal Protection Act, a one-year sentence.”

However, the longest sentence given for a similar case in Venter’s experience was six months and usually only resulted in a R5 000 fine.

Modise said in a statement on Monday that she was told the farm was being looked after by a replacement manager after her farm manager requested time off to deal with family matters.

Modise said she had not been informed when the replacement vanished and she only learnt of the alleged neglect from the SPCA.

Opposition parties on Monday sharpened their political knives over Modise’s explanation and called for her arrest.

“Thandi Modise’s excuse that her farm manager had absconded is unacceptable,” said Pieter Groenewald, the Freedom Front Plus’s agriculture spokesman in Parliament. “This means that she had not communicated with the farm manager for at least one to two weeks. She should be prosecuted for cruelty against animals.”

The DA’s North West leader, Chris Hattingh, said Modise must be held to account for what happened. “Pending the outcome of an investigation, she could also be sentenced to 12 months in jail, which would disqualify her from her current position as NCOP chairperson,” Hattingh said.

He said he personally opened a case at the Potchefstroom police station on Monday because he was at the farm at the weekend and claimed he saw police officers burning some of the carcasses before the SPCA had inspected them. “That was evidence that was burning.”

But North West provincial police spokesman Colonel Sabata Mokgwabone disputed this and said it was the SPCA officials who burnt the carcasses. He added that police were waiting for the SPCA to finalise their investigation before they took over.

The SA Pork Producers Organisation said they were “dismayed” by the allegations of neglect.

“For someone who has never farmed anything, starting out with pig farming is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said the organisation’s chief executive Simon Streicher.

On top of a fine or sentence, according to the Animal Protection Act, any magistrate’s court may also: “Declare the person convicted to be unfit to own or be in charge of any animal, or of any animal of a specified kind, for a specified period.”

The act states that an animal found at a premises is presumed to be “the property or under the control of the owner of that premises” or who controls the property.

Late on Monday night, several people took to social media to make comparisons between the farm and the shootings of 34 miners by police at Marikana in the North West in August 2012. Modise was the North West premier at the time.

The Star