Working donkey champions: role models in South Africa
Six-year-old Inganathi has been fascinated with donkeys and their behavior since he was a little boy. By the age of three, the young South African would happily spend hours travelling with family in the back of a donkey cart and soon developed a great affinity for the working donkeys of his village. So when Working Donkey Champion Mfundo Noconjo started holding animal welfare classes in his village, Inganathi and his friends were delighted to learn more about the animals that they had grown up with.
Mfundo became a Working Donkey Champion (WDC) through the help of AmaTrac Uluntu, an organisation that receives funding from SPANA to train animal welfare ambassadors across the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The organisation spreads its message of humane welfare education to children through these local WDCs by ensuring that every community has an advocate for animal welfare.
Mfundo loves inspiring children about animal welfare – during his classes, he teaches hundreds of children like Inganathi about animal sentience and shows them that donkeys can feel hunger, thirst and pain just like people. He also runs training workshops on how to construct humane harnesses, how to groom donkeys and how to prevent common injuries and illnesses.
When Inganathi turned six, his parents presented him with a gift – his very own donkey named Roger. Now, thanks to his humane welfare education, Inganathi takes excellent care of his treasured donkey – letting Roger rest regularly during work. The young boy talks to Roger as he brushes him and Roger visibly enjoys the attention, leaning in to Inganathi’s brushstrokes as he is groomed.
Recently, when Mfundo showed Inganathi how to fit a humane harness, Roger stood patiently and allowed the boy to practice his knots. Inganathi communicated with his donkey by holding Roger’s muzzle gently in both hands and emulating the soft sound that donkeys make when they greet.
Children’s education is especially important as young boys traditionally take care of livestock and are also responsible for looking after donkeys for their families. As working donkeys aren’t valued for meat or milk, they can often be overlooked by the communities that rely on them for transportation.
But, fortunately, this is all changing for the better thanks to Working Donkey Champions, who are communicating to children at a young age that all animals are deserving of compassion and respect.
One of Inganathi’s friends, 13-year-old Asive Matole says:
‘I used to be scared of being kicked by donkeys. I sometimes see men that beat donkeys and provide no water when it is very hot. I want to stop them doing this. Now I understand more about donkeys, I think they are beautiful and should be treated kindly.’
There is hope for the future of South Africa’s working donkeys and change is happening thanks to people like Mfundo and other Working Donkey Champions.