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Conservationists design Fake Leopard Skins in South Africa to Save the Wild Animal

Conservationists hope to expand their fake skin campaign to other ethnic groups and African countries where the leopard is incorporated into ceremonial attire

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Members of the Shembe Church wearing leopard skins during their dance celebrations at eBuhleni, near Durban, South Africa, Jan 29, 2017.

At least 1,200 men in ceremonial attire danced at a mainly Zulu gathering in South Africa on Sunday, wearing a mix of hides of illegally hunted leopards and Chinese-made, spotted capes designed by conservationists to reduce demand for the real thing.

The phalanxes of dancers with shields, headgear of ostrich feathers and other regalia on Sunday evoked the proud traditions of one of South Africa’s main ethnic groups, as well as the piety of the participants, whose Shembe religious movement blends Christian and indigenous beliefs.

The event in Ebuhleni, north of the coastal city of Durban, also testified to an openness to change because roughly half the men were wearing fake leopard skins rather than genuine pelts, symbols of power because of the predator’s grace and lethality. In fact, leopards are vulnerable on a continent with a rapidly growing human population, their numbers diminished by habitat loss, illegal hunting for their skins and other factors.

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“It’s like abusing the animals if they’re hunted to get the real skin,” said 67-year-old Msoleni Manqele, who collected a manufactured copy of a leopard hide from a Shembe distribution office, which had in turn received a batch of fake pelts from the Panthera conservation group.

The white-bearded Manqele spoke in awe of the leopard, describing it as a “king of the jungle” that fights with its claws, teeth and hind legs. He said he knows leopards “personally” because he lives near a wildlife park, but acknowledged with a laugh: “I’m also scared of them.”

One dancer, Madoda Zungu, wore a real leopard skin but said he also had one of the fake samples, first handed out in large numbers by Panthera in 2013 after years of negotiations with Shembe leaders, some of whom were resistant to shaking up an old custom at the behest of outsiders.

“It’s very important to know where we are coming from. This symbolizes our tradition,” said Zungu, a municipal councilor. The leopard, he said, “is one of the animals that actually has got power in terms of the strength, in terms of thinking, in terms of doing and being a leader.”

Another man, Kholwali Nxumalo, said he had settled for a fake fur, but still hoped to buy a real one despite the expense.

While the replica pelts, called “amambatha,” have been distributed for free or a small levy, vendors near the dance site were selling real leopard skins for about $370, as well as the tails of monkeys, genets and serval cats worn by dancers, often around the waist. A few skins of cheetahs, another imperiled species, were also on display.

The imitation leopard skins, besides being a free or cheap alternative to the real item, are more durable in the rain. The mock versions generally look shinier and neater than their real counterparts, which need to be replaced after about a decade.

Learning about fashion was a challenge for Panthera’s “Furs for Life” project, which modeled imitations on a haul seized from a poacher and used a complex weave technology that wasn’t available in Africa.

“We took those skins, we photographed them, we then digitized them into the pixels that the machine needs and then we sent that into the factories to try and make it exactly as that original fur,” said Tristan Dickerson, the project manager. Dickerson also navigated the Shembe movement’s divisive politics, saying it was sometimes hard to tell “if you were speaking to the right faction.”

A permit is required to own a leopard skin, but authorities don’t crack down on Shembe dancers, mindful of cultural and religious sensitivities. Sunday’s pageantry followed a pilgrimage to a nearby mountain and is one of the group’s biggest occasions in the year, drawing followers from across South Africa, as well as neighboring Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

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An estimated 1,500 and 2,500 leopards are killed annually in the region to meet Shembe demand for skins, and some 15,000 real pelts are currently circulating in the religious community, according to Panthera. There are fewer than 5,000 leopards in South Africa, a relative stronghold of the animal on the continent.

Conservationists hope to expand their fake skin campaign to other ethnic groups and African countries where the leopard is incorporated into ceremonial attire. The Cartier jewelry brand and the South Africa-based Peace Parks Foundation are major funders of the Panthera program.

Decades ago, only Zulu aristocracy wore real leopard skins, but more people took up the custom, partly because of growing affluence. Lizwi Ncwane, a Shembe leader, wants the prestige of a real pelt to once again be the exclusive right of royalty, with followers using the copies.

“We want to conserve the leopard,” Ncwane said. “But at the very same time, we don’t want to push people away from their culture and customary practices.”(VOA)

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From Moeen Ali to Ranji: Hindu-Muslim in Cricketing Diaspora

West Indian cricket, uninhibited by the class stratifications of South Africa, gave full vent to a mixture of slavery and indenture to produce the world's most scintillating cricketers

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Moeen Ali
Moeen Ali during a match against Sri Lanka at the R.Premadasa. Wikimedia
  • An overwhelming majority of Indians in South Africa are children of indentured laborers
  • Brahmins never accepted indenture
  • Ranji, the very “English” cricketer, had a very Indian sister he was fond of

Aug 06, 2017: When he completed his hat-trick by trapping South Africa’s Morne Morkel leg before wicket in the third Test match at the Oval with his orthodox off-spin, Moeen Ali entered the record books on three counts.

This was the first hat-trick in history at Surrey’s famous cricket ground. The hat-trick also gave England victory, a record-breaking coincidence. Also, Moeen is the first cricketer of South Asia origin to have posted such a record — at least since the princely order faded out. Not since Ranji, Duleep Singh ji and the Nawab of Pataudi has a subcontinental cricketer inserted himself in British history books.

Asked if he would ever play cricket in India, Ranji is reported to have grandly asserted: “Duleep and I are English cricketers.” For that classy disdain, Ranji Trophy cricket was instituted in India in 1934. The year Ranji died, 1933, was, by a coincidence, historic for Indian cricket in another way: The first Test match was played at the Bombay Gymkhana. C.K. Nayudu captained India. The English captain happened to be D.R. Jardine, notorious for his bodyline series against Bradman’s Australia.

I find it difficult to resist a non-cricketing story about Ranji which I picked up during my travels across Ireland. After his cricketing days, Ranji took to hunting as a sport. A grouse shooting accident injured him in one eye.

Scouts scoured the British Isles for the finest spot for angling, which was to be Ranji’s next hobby. He was informed that there was no better spot for river salmon than the bend in the river facing Ballynahinch Castle on Ireland’s Connemara coast.

Other than being a magnificent castle facing a hillock on one side and a river on the other, Ballynahinch suited Ranji for another little-known reason.

Ranji, the very “English” cricketer, had a very Indian sister he was fond of. In the male dominated feudal world, she had to be accommodated within hailing distance. Negotiations were started with a convent in the vicinity. The convent would receive endowments. Ranji’s sister would live with the nuns with two non-negotiable conditions: She would not be converted and she would wear a sari, not a habit. To this day Ballynahinch has a photograph of Ranji’s sister in the convent, wearing a white sari, rather like Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

Also Read: EXCLUSIVE: Cricket- A Fair Game or Farce!

Had I not strayed into the Ranji saga, the narrative after the Moeen Ali performance would have been the obvious one: A few months ago there were as many as four Muslims in the English cricket team — Moeen, Adil Rashid, Haseeb Hameed and Zafar Ansari. Why is there no Hindu in the list? Lest I be misunderstood, my curiosity is mostly sociological. My guess is that Hindus overseas involve themselves in matters more serious than cricket.

The phenomenon continues in other cricket playing countries — Usman Khawaja in Australia; Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir in South Africa; Sikandar Raza who helped Zimbabwe beat Sri Lanka.

Most of these players do not lend themselves to significant sociological analysis. They are immigrants from Pakistan. Hashim Amla is the only one who reflects South Africa’s social hierarchies going back to Mahatma Gandhi’s 21 years in that country.

An overwhelming majority of Indians in South Africa, mostly around Durban, are children of indentured labourers, a device colonialism invented to circumvent the abolition of slavery. This class, along with the blacks, was too depressed to be playing a “gentleman’s” game. But a wave of Muslim Gujarati Merchants, who turned up to cater to the British and Indian clients, were financially sound. One of them was Baba Abdullah, who invited Gandhi to be his barrister.

Since apartheid South Africa barred non-white students from the better schools, this elite group helped set up English-style public schools in neighbouring countries like Malawi under the supervision of such arch British toadies as President Hastings Banda.

It is the progeny of these Muslim merchants from Gujarat who developed a taste for Marxism, as well as cricket, later in British universities. Yusuf Dadoo, Ahmed Kathrada, Essop Pahad, Kamal Asmal, Dullah Omar, Ahmed and Yusuf Cachalia, Fatima Meer — they formed the backbone of the ANC resistance against apartheid.

Once apartheid was lifted, their children joined the all-white Rand club in Johannesburg and sundry cricket clubs. That is the kind of background Hashim Amla would come from.

How does one explain the fine off-spinner, Keshav Maharaj, to my knowledge the first Hindu in the South African team currently touring England? Maharaj is actually a contrived title among Indians with a background in indenture.

Brahmins never accepted indenture. For them, to cross the black waters (Kala pani) was a sin because useless action was a sin. But the Brahmin was sorely missed for religious rituals during birth, death, marriage. To make up for this shortfall, the community conferred the title of “Maharaj” on the most educated and one of “Light skin”. The most famous of this genre was one of Nelson Mandela’s closest friends, Mac Maharaj. It was he who smuggled out the manuscript of the Long March to Freedom from the Robben Island across a stretch of the ocean from Cape Town. Keshav Maharaj is presumably from this stock.

West Indian cricket, uninhibited by the class stratifications of South Africa, gave full vent to a mixture of slavery and indenture to produce the world’s most scintillating cricketers.

Of Indian origin were brilliant batsmen like Rohan Kanhai, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan — all from Guyana.

It has remained something of a puzzle why Fiji, most loyal to be British crown, never took to cricket in a big way. An average native Fijian is taller than a professional basketball player in America. He is also stronger of built. This oversized human machine hurtling the ball from palm tree height would have led to bloodshed in days when helmets were not known. Is this why the Anglo Saxon never encouraged cricket in Fiji?

(Saeed Naqvi is a commentator on political and diplomatic affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on saeednaqvi@hotmail.com)

–IANS

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New Book About Nelson Mandela’s Medical Treatment before his 2013 Death Stirs Dispute

A new book by a former South African military doctor that documents Nelson Mandela's medical treatments before his 2013 death violates doctor-patient confidentiality

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Book About Nelson Mandela's Medical Treatment Stirs Dispute
An ambulance transporting former South African president Nelson Mandela arrives at the home of the former statesman in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sept. 1, 2013. VOA file image
  • A new book by a former South African military doctor that documents Nelson Mandela’s medical treatments violates doctor-patient confidentiality
  • But  according to the retired doctor, Vejay Ramlakan, the Mandela family had requested that the book be written
  • Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, is considering legal action and will consult with the executors of Mandela’s will

JOHANNESBURG, July 24, 2017: A new book by a former South African military doctor that documents Nelson Mandela’s medical treatments before his 2013 death violates doctor-patient confidentiality, according to some relatives of the anti-apartheid leader and Nobel laureate.

But the retired doctor, Vejay Ramlakan, said in an interview this weekend on the eNCA news channel that the Mandela family had requested that the book be written. While Ramlakan declined to say which family members had given permission for the book, his remarks could indicate continuing rifts in a family whose members have feuded over the years on issues such as inheritance.

The book, “Mandela’s Last Years,” covers Mandela’s health while he was imprisoned during white minority rule, during his tenure as South Africa’s first black president and in retirement. It also focuses on the dramatic final months of Mandela’s life, when he was suffering a lung infection and other ailments before dying at age 95.

ALSO READNelson Mandela’s Dream of a Hospital to provide Specialized Care for Children opens in Johannesburg

“It documents the complex medical decisions; disputes between family members and staff; military, political, financial and security demands; constant scrutiny from the press; and the wishes of Mandela himself, all of which contributed to what he and those closest to him would experience in his final days,” according to Penguin Random House, the publisher.

Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, said she is considering legal action and will consult with the executors of Mandela’s will, South African media reported.

“We are deeply disappointed that the doctor appears to have compromised himself and the man whom he had the privilege to serve,” Nkosi Mandela, a grandson of the anti-apartheid leader, said in a statement. He said the book might contain ethical violations.

In the eNCA interview, Ramlakan said he had permission to write the book and that “all parties who needed to be consulted were consulted.”

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela’s ex-wife and a prominent figure in the anti-apartheid movement, was with her former husband when he died, according to Ramlakan, a former surgeon general of South Africa who headed Mandela’s medical team.

“She’s the one who was there when he passed on,” he said. “I think Mrs. Machel was in the house or busy with other issues. But I have no idea because I was focusing on my patient.” (VOA)


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“I was 12 Years Old when I was Raped” : Survivors of Wartime Rape Break the Silence

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FILE - Bosnian Muslim women from Visegrad hold a peaceful protest of the U.N. war crimes tribunal's failure to include counts of rape in indictments against Bosnian Serb cousins Milan and Sredoje Lukic, Sarajevo, July 18, 2008. VOA

Africa, July 3, 2017: “I was 12 years old when I was raped. I did not understand what was happening.”

Nelle is now 36 years old. But in 1993 when war broke out in Burundi, armed men came to her village near the capital, Bujumbura. They killed her mother and father and six siblings. She was raped, but she survived.

“I saw people were killing each other. They were running away and killing each other. I hid myself under dead bodies for five days,” she said.

Difficult story

Nelle’s story of survival was long and difficult to tell. After living through years of instability, she told VOA that she left for South Africa in 2004 when a new government came to power in Burundi.

“I was scared,” she said. “I was afraid war was coming and I did not want to go through the same thing as in 1993. I did not want to be raped again. So, I quit the country and became a refugee in South Africa.”

Nelle is one of 25 rape survivors from South Sudan, Mali, Colombia and 12 other conflict-affected countries around the world who attended a four-day retreat this week in Geneva.

They came to share their experiences and to devise strategies for the creation of a global movement to end rape as a weapon on war.

“These 25 women have suffered unthinkable things and developed remarkable powers,” said Esther Dingemans, director of the Mukwege Foundation.

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“They have experienced the cruelest violence. But the perpetrators did not succeed in breaking them,” she said.

The foundation is headed by Denis Mukwege, a renowned surgeon from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has treated thousands of survivors of sexual violence in Congo.

“We hope that this week will be the beginning of a large long-term movement that leads to a global platform of survivors,” said Dingemans, “and that their voices will finally be heard.”

Wartime atrocities

In 1992, after the atrocities committed in the Bosnian war, especially against Muslim women, rape, for the first time was recognized as a weapon of war by the United Nations Security Council.

In 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution 1325, which was the first formal and legal document that required parties to a conflict to “protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.”

It also was the first U.N. resolution to specifically mention women.

Ulrike Lunasek, vice president of the European Parliament, who spoke at the ceremony honoring the 25 women survivors, said it is “important to break the vicious circle of shame and silence” that women usually feel when they are raped.

She said women raped in war must be supported, helped to heal and then “be encouraged to speak up, but also to tell the truth about what military conflict and war means for women.”

Women did speak up at this conference. Several survivors presented searing testimony about their ordeals.

Solange Bigiramana, who survived the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, now lives as a stateless person in South Africa.

“My situation of being a survivor, that comes from a situation of war. It happened for me to face rape. I know what rape means,” she said.

“And I am here with a story of hope,” she said. “I once was under a shadow. I want every survivor to be out of the shadow and to be into the light.”

Yazidi girl

Another survivor, Farida Abbas-Khalaf, a Yazidi girl from the Iraqi village of Kocho, described the torment to which she and other members of her community were subjected by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in her book The Girl Who Beat ISIS.

She spoke movingly and in agonizing detail about being raped, beaten, insulted, and forced to pray and read the Koran.

“Young boys were brainwashed and sent to ISIS training camps to become ISIS fighters while women and young girls were taken as sex slaves and sold at slave markets,” said Abbas-Khalaf.

She said that she was able to heal because of support from her family, her community and her spiritual leader who she said made a statement “that the surviving girls are an important part of the Yazidi community and that what happened to them was against their will.”

She added, “It is time that survivors break the silence. But mostly it is time for the world to hear their voices.” (VOA)