On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia, Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi appealed to South African President Jacob Zuma for an end to the centuries-old cultural rite in which a bull is killed bare-handed by young men. The Zulu ritual of Ukweshwama or ‘First Fruits Festival’, traditionally taking place early in December every year as a thanksgiving practice for bountiful harvests.

The practice is not subject to animal rights laws because of its constitutional protection as a cultural practice.

“While I respect culture, this bull-killing ritual causes extreme suffering to an innocent creature and has no place in the modern world,” Ms. Gandhi wrote, likening the campaign against the practice to the fight against cannibalism, infanticide, female circumcision, foot-binding, bull-fighting, fox hunting and even slavery.

“Tradition is not an excuse for cruelty,” she added, giving a very graphic description of how “a group of young men torture and kill a bull with their bare hands, pulling the terrified and struggling animal to the ground, ripping out his tongue, shoving handfuls of dirt into his mouth, tearing out his eyes, mutilating his genitals and engaging in other cruel acts until the bull is finally dead.”

Mixed feelings

There were mixed feelings on Ms. Gandhi’s appeal from locals here, her views garnering support from animal rights activists, but others challenging her to first see for herself how the ritual actually takes place before relying on third party information.

Ms. Gandhi said there were “thousands of studies of criminally violent behaviour [that] have shown that people who are cruel to animals often commit violence against their fellow humans as well. Surely this is not a ’value’ you want to instill in the citizens of KwaZulu-Natal?”

These remarks unleashed angry reaction from young Zulus who participate in the festival, “Where are these ‘thousands of studies’ and who is she to pass comment on our values?” an angry Petros Buthelezi told PTI.

“On the contrary, Ukweshwama engenders a community spirit and is a ritual to give thanks for ensuring that our fellowmen have sustenance.”

There was no comment from Zuma’s office on the matter, but in a related issue, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka on Thursday expressed his full support for a plan by traditional leaders to slaughter an animal at each of the new stadiums across the country before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, to be hosted in South Africa next year.

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