Engineer School stands accused of ill-treating SANDF “biological assets”


In the last year of her tenure as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thandi Modise received no less than five letters of complaint from the South African National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) regarding apparent ill-treatment of “biological assets” in the form of black wildebeest.

Zero written response and an inconclusive site visit to the Barney Molokoane Base at the SA Army School of Engineers in Kroonstad left the animal welfare organisation with no other option than to inform Modise, on her final day in office (Wednesday 19 June) that legal action against the Department of Defence (DoD) and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) would follow unless four demands were met.

With Modise no longer the Cabinet minister tasked with defence and at the time of publication – no announcement of the seventh administration Cabinet – the demands set by NSPCA Executive Director Marcelle Meredith awaits the new incumbent.

In her 19 June letter to Modise, copied to former deputy defence and military veterans minister Thabang Makwetla; SANDF Chief, General Rudzani Maphwanya; and – erroneously – Sonto Kudjoe as DoD Director-General; Meredith refers to a “myriad of correspondence” that seemingly elicited just one response. This was a “special wildlife site visit” to where a herd of between three and four hundred black wildebeest are on the Barney Molokoane base, part of the Sapper school facility in the Free State province. The visit on 23 October last year followed an inspection by SPCA staff on 11 August which found nine dead animals, one dying, “very little water” and no supplementary feed.

That inspection drew scathing comment including no clarity as to how “hundreds of animals landed up on 200 hectares of land” as well as “massive over-grazing”.

The “wildlife site visit”, organised according to Meredith by the DoD Logistics Division, was followed by a “fruitless” 6 October meeting that saw “bureaucratic hurdles”, the setting of “unrealistic timelines” for the live capture and translocation of the animals, and “un-actioned decisions”.

Six months later in March this year the “crisis” – to use Meredith’s word – was temporarily averted thanks to interventions by officers at the base. “Your office (Modise’s) was requested to provide an undertaking that the stocking reduction would take place in March, before winter and the next breeding season”.

As with previous correspondence this was not acknowledged or responded to.

The NSPCA said a 28 May inspection found “no plan and the base has no indication of anything that should happen. At the time of inspection, there were no grazing available and there I reliance on external grass and refilling of water troughs. The NSPCA again expresses its concern, as problem swill undoubtedly arise during the current winter months, when the need for food will become even more dire and inspections by ourselves will need to be increased. The problem is further exacerbated by the apparent increase in animals, after the breeding season.”

“To date, there is no indication from DoD why these animals (estimated 300-400) are at the base, where they came from and why it is necessary to overstock hundreds of Wildebeest on a military base…It is quite disingenuous for the SANDF to publicly complain about constrained budgetary measures, whilst the SANDF care for these animals unnaturally through feed and water provision as well as veterinary attention for sick and/or injured animals (although such ‘care’ in itself is worrisome and insufficient).”

The NSPCA demands a decisive plan for “resolving the stocking density with severe urgency,” funding this plan, delivering supplementary feed and water in the interim, and a contact person responsible for ensuring that animals do not suffer on the base.

Meredith gives Modise – or her replacement – seven days from the date of the last letter, making Friday, June 28 (if she is referring to work days) D-day before commencement of “stringent legal action” if its demands are not met.

There was, at the time of publishing, no reaction to the NSPCA letter from the Defence and Military Veterans Ministry, the DoD or the SANDF.