In South Africa, A Time To Weep
It was this message that resonated with the mob and as they calmed, one after the other said they were sorry for what had happened and would never be deliberately cruel to an animal again.
It was this message that resonated with the mob and as they calmed, one after the other said they were sorry for what had happened and would never be deliberately cruel to an animal again. Yesterday was probably the first time – and likely the only time – that the story of a vervet monkey made front page headlines in virtually every newspaper and news website across South Africa.
And as distressing and depressing as the story of the poor creatures’ cruel fate, is the way it has thrown into harsh light what a long, long road South Africans have yet to travel to reach reconciliation and understanding between its citizens.
I have known Why that would be I don’t know. Working in some of the poorest and sickest communities in the world certainly hasn’t made her battle hardened or cynical. If anything quite the opposite. In fact I would say Cora is the most compassionate person I know. But she doesn’t cry – not when she has been shot at, or when people have died in her arms from HIV-Aids related illnesses, when she helped a paralysed man whose feet were literally being eaten away by rats, when she rescues hundreds of dogs abandoned by forced removal policies, or tended to a dog so badly injured it was literally missing a leg, or dogs or cats and other animals subjected to the cruelest of injuries oftentimes simply because their owners didn’t know better.
But last Monday she cried. Just the day before she had returned from the UK and US on a successfully fund raising mission for IFAW. She walked straight into the thick of it – vervet monkeys had been spotted in three locations on the West Rand of Johannesburg. If they weren’t rescued they were bound to be persecuted by people who still view monkeys with superstition and believe them to be linked to witchcraft.
Cora immediately dispatched teams to try and catch the monkeys. Two of the animals couldn’t be found, but the third was up a tree while a mob tried to force it out of the branches by pelting it with stones and other missiles.
A local resident had called the police but they had failed to respond to the monkey’s plight – some people say the police had arrived and had shot at the monkey. So Johannes Bapela, a local man, called Cora for help.
By the time she and CLAW vet tech Jenn Gerner arrived it was too late. The monkey had been taken from the tree, beaten and hacked with garden forks and machetes and then set alight – burned alive by the mob and in front of young children.
Concerned for her safety Cora refused to let Jenn out of her car, but she got out herself and set about calming the mob and telling them why the monkey was harmless, how it had probably just wandered into the township because its habitat was being destroyed, or that it had been separated from its troop.
“It was on a quest to find a family,” she said.
But Cora also told them that displays of such violence is very damaging to the psyche of young people, fueling the pattern of brutality and crime that affects everyone in South Africa. It was this message that resonated with the mob and as they calmed, one after the other said they were sorry for what had happened and would never be deliberately cruel to an animal again.
A week later, this past Sunday evening, the story carried on national television news. And on Monday morning it was headlines in every major newspaper and news website. Radio stations were queuing to talk to her and the stories all carried the same positive message explaining that monkeys have no link to witchcraft, and that violence only begets violence.
Cora was elated. Visiting Kagiso on Sunday she received a wonderfully warm reception from the local community whose view of monkeys has completely changed.
By midday yesterday her mood had changed. On one website the story had become the day’s most commented upon, but the online comments had almost entirely taken on a polarised and racial tone with South Africans of different ethnicities hitting out at each other with breathtaking degrees of viciousness and intolerance.