Is ritual bull killing cruel?

2007-12-22 00:00

Umkhosi Wokweshwama (Festival of the First Fruits), which incorporates Umkhosi Wezinsizwa (the ceremony in which a regiment is appointed), is due to take place today at the Zulu king’s palace in KwaNongoma amid strong opposition from an animal rights lobby group.

Del Jones, of the Farm and Animal Unit in the National Council of SPCAs, said her organisation is not opposed to the festival, but rather to the way a bull is killed during the ceremony.

The ceremony involves young Zulu warriors killing the bull with bare hands.

“We accept that culture and tradition must carry on, but we can adapt them to encompass cruelty-free practices in these,” Jones said.

She says the SPCA has tried unsuccessfully over the years to engage King Goodwill Zwelithini and other prominent leaders, including Premier S’bu Ndebele, on the issue.

However, Ndela Ntshangase, an expert in African religious practices and a lecturer in Zulu studies, said the bull is killed as humanely as possible.

The killing of the bull, Ntshangase said, is part of a ritual during Umkhosi Wezinsizwa, in which the king appoints a new regiment.

“The killing of the bull by members of a new regiment [ibutho] with their bare hands is part of a prayer during the ritual. This is meant to test the strength of that regiment. However, the prayer is the most important thing.”

If there is no new regiment, the reigning king calls upon the incumbent regiment to perform the ritual to ensure that the nation has a strong army to defend the king’s subjects.

“It is necessary to keep the army strong. Any king without a strong army is regarded as a weak king,” he said.

Jones said the NSPCA has reports and a photograph showing that the bull is killed cruelly. Its eyes are gouged out, it is choked with sand put down its throat and nose, its testicles are pulled and its tongue torn out, all while it is still alive, she added.

Ntshangase said that this is not true.

“The new regiment is even given strict instructions to kill the bull ngokuphazama kwehlo [in a blink of an eye],” he said.

The regiment is strengthened by a ritual drinking and sprinkling of muthi, and it eats some of the meat of the bull.

“There is no way that the bull will be choked with sand; how would you eat meat with sand?”

Umkhosi Wokweshwama and Umkhosi Wezinsizwa are separate festivals. The reigning monarch, Zwelithini, combined them when he revived the traditions. The former invokes a blessing on the first harvest. “The food is not to be eaten before it is blessed,” Ntshangase said.

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