Brave KZN teen saves 6-year-old cousin from baboon attack

2016-03-30 12:04
Sabelo Xaba, 15, had been fetching horses from the veld when he heard the screams of his cousin Seluleko, who was being attack by a baboon. Sabelo ran to his aid and used a whip to try and fend of the animal. (Photos by Jeff Wicks, News24)

Sabelo Xaba, 15, had been fetching horses from the veld when he heard the screams of his cousin Seluleko, who was being attack by a baboon. Sabelo ran to his aid and used a whip to try and fend of the animal. (Photos by Jeff Wicks, News24)

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Durban - Seluleko Xaba, gravely wounded when he was attacked by a baboon at the weekend, obliviously examines a juice bottle as throngs of cameramen and politicians vacillate around him in his hospital bed.

Threadbare pyjamas, a hallmark of home, veil the wounds where his back was cleaved apart by the primate’s teeth. 

The attack has widened the chasm between a farmer and the Xaba family, on a perpetual collision course over land.

Farmer David Aadnesgaard's version of events is, however, markedly different. He said that the baboon thought to have attacked the child may have been reared by humans, and did not carry with it the inherent fear of people like that of a normal wild animal.

The boy had spent Friday morning playing with his cousins at the Xaba family homestead, set at the foot of a valley in Richmond, in central KwaZulu-Natal, when he was attacked.

Flanked by waist-high veld, dust had swirled around his feet when he ran along a well-worn path to fetch horses, at the behest of a clan elder.

Moments later, the 6-year-old boy lay in a heap; his bare feet coated in blood.

His cousin Sabelo, who had heard Seluleko’s cries and ran to his aid, is credited with saving his young cousin’s life.

The teen had taken up a whip meant to spur the horses and faced the baboon head on, his charge causing it to scarper into the brush.

'Family crops have been destroyed'

The tale of Sabelo’s heroism and Seluleko’s survival run on the surface, with a deep current of generational oppression running beneath it.   

The KwaZulu-Natal premier’s office had on Monday released a loaded statement on the attack.

Spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya said that baboons were given "preferential treatment".

"Following this incident, we have uncovered untold sufferings of families living on farms in Richmond. Families have complained bitterly that for years they have been fending off sustained attacks from a troop of baboons owned by the farm boss.

"For years, family crops have been destroyed by these baboons exposing the families to food insecurity and abject poverty. Sadly, repeated pleas to the farm owner have been ignored. This is a clear indication that the welfare of baboons is the priority," he said.

Later, Aadnesgaard speaks to us as he leans against his bakkie on a hilltop, thumbing a frayed cigarette box.

He says: "On Wednesday the family living in the valley phoned me to say that there was a baboon at the kraal. And I sent my son there immediately. I was told that the children had fed the baboon, and that is when I knew we would have to shoot it," he said.

Aadnesgaard said that his son had arrived, but was unable to find the animal, but the baboon had returned to the kraal the following day.

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"On Thursday, he managed to have a shot at it, but because it was so far and was running away from him, he couldn’t be sure that he’d hit it. On Friday morning, I went and shot the baboon minutes after it bit the children, it was maybe 200 metres from the kraal," he said.

'I caught them killing the warthog'

The farmer explained that the valley was a wilderness area and registered game farm, home to a menagerie of animals.

The troop of baboons near the Xaba homestead is one of four in the valley.  

"This troop was released here by Crow (Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife). They had been rehabilitated and gathered together from various areas. A chap that worked there asked me if we can release them in the area. We got Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to come and do a study and they said it was a perfect environment. We consulted everyone about it and they were introduced without incident."

He maintains the errant baboon had become too familiar with humans, losing the inherent fear of people.

"That is the one that we assume was not scared of humans. If any other baboon saw us they would run for the hills, they are wild. You can’t get near them. I don’t know how anyone can be held liable for this and I don’t know how you could politicise something like this," he said.

On the assertion that he had banned the Xaba family from protecting their crops from bushpigs, Aadnesgaard scoffed.  

"Bushpigs have always been in this area because of the sugarcane all around us. I have them in my garden and me choosing not to shoot them is my prerogative. They [the Xaba’s] are welcome to shoot them if they wish. The problem arose three years ago when they [members of the Xaba family] killed one of my warthogs and I charged them. Warthog won’t spoil a crop, they eat grass."

"They accused me of being unfair, but I caught them killing the warthog. It went to court and the magistrate found them guilty of poaching, and killing an animal that was specially protected.

"I haven’t bought bushpigs and introduced them to terrorise this family and I certainly didn’t do that with the baboons," he added.

He said that a land claim filed by the Xaba family was at the root of the issue.

"The Xaba’s put in a land claim which we have verbally settled with them, all mediated by the Department of Land Affairs.

"They had settled their cattle there and everyone was happy and then this comes along. This seems to me like an attempt to score political points by attacking a white farmer," he said.  

Sibusiso Ngcamu, secretary of the ANC branch in the area, is one of a number of political players who visited the family on Tuesday.

The homestead was awash with yellow, with nearly 20 women wearing ANC T-shirts seated in the shade.  

'These animals are hungry'

In stark opposition to Aadnesgaard, Ngcamu said: "These baboons were brought here years ago and the family was not consulted at all. They damaged the crops."

"These animals are hungry and are looking for something to eat and we have concerns that the farm owner does not take this seriously. He is not taking measures against these baboons that are victimising the community," Ngcamu added.

"This farm is under claim and we are not sure if the farmer is doing this intentionally because he is very opposed to returning the land to the community. It is our strong belief that he is trying to chase the communities out of the farm," he said.

Ward Councillor Jethro Jili echoed Ngcamu’s sentiment.

"The family have spoken. They want these dangerous baboons removed from the area. The sooner the better. No one knows what will happen if they are left here," he said.

"Whoever is responsible for these baboons must be held accountable for them. I don’t think it’s fair that you can conserve dangerous animals like baboons in an area that is not secure."

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  conservation  |  animals

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