Many South Africans can’t really imagine donkeys as a source of meat. When they think of the animals, they see them as beasts of burden that pull carts and perhaps get whipped all day.
This attitude is set to change in North West though. The donkey could soon be seen as a cash cow after China revealed plans to have donkey meat exported from the province.
This came out of the Chinese and North West trade and investment meeting, where the possibility of the province breeding donkeys and exporting their meat to China was discussed.
Donkey meat is a popular dish in parts of China, and North West is set to join Botswana in supplying the growing demand for it.
This could see a number of donkeys and abattoirs – where they will be slaughtered and their meat packaged for export to China – being multiplied. This is already happening in Botswana, where the donkey-meat export business is reportedly booming.
The Chinese embassy in Botswana wrote on its website recently about its business relations with South Africa’s neighbouring country: “One of the popular products is donkey meat from Botswana, which is doing so well that local businesspeople exporting it are planning to build a canned donkey-meat processing facility.”
The last time donkeys made news was three decades ago when Lucas Mangope, then the leader of the Bophuthatswana homeland, ordered the culling of donkeys because they were supposedly not worth much and were consuming lots of cattle pastures.
Even after the cull, the donkey population continued to grow drastically over the years – but if all goes according to plan, there may be no need for further culling.
Traditionally, the donkey is regarded as a work animal that is easy to maintain, and used to load goods and transport people on carts.
Speaking after a meeting with a delegate from China’s Henan province recently, North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo said: “Our people must get into the breeding of donkeys and, based on their cooperatives and enterprise, must now get into business-to-business transactions with the Chinese so we can do exportation of donkey meat.”
Deputy governor of Henan province Li Ya said: “[Donkey-meat export] is one of the possibilities still under discussion, but we still need to make a careful study and do a lot of research.”
Elias Lokwae, a donkey owner from Makgobistad near Mahikeng, said: “We have in the surrounding areas here more donkeys than cattle and it is not helping much, because donkeys are not worth much.
“Apart from the economic empowerment from this planned enterprise, it will also help take excess donkeys off the fields, as we believe they destroy pastures in that no grass grows on sports grounds where they urinate.”
Local chief Goitseone Motseoakhumo welcomed the business initiative.
“It is a great economic opportunity, particularly for the youth, and it is true that we have more than enough donkeys around here.
“I hope this will also change our people’s attitude towards donkeys and they will stop seeing them as worthless objects that they can beat as they please while the poor animals run with heavy loads in tow,” he said.