Hide and seek

Published: Tuesday 31 August 2004

In the republic of Swaziland in southern Africa, cattle are regarded as cultural icons. So when the government announced a new cow-branding law in the southern Shiselweni region, the Swazis were but naturally chagrined. The law will go nationwide following an education campaign to introduce farmers to their new responsibilities.

"I know each of my cows by sight. I give them names, and they respond to their names -- I have no need to burn their hides. This is an insult to my masculinity," thundered Sipho Dlamini, a smallholder farmer in rural Mliba in central Swaziland.

Minister of Agriculture, Mtiti Fakudze insists, "Branding is needed to reduce the risk of cattle rustling". According to the Royal Swaziland police force, cattle are driven over the border to Mozambique or South Africa by thieves. Even after recovery, identification remains problematic. A well-known reason for the Swazi farmers' resistance to the law is that it would enable police to identify the owners of animals that cause traffic accidents.

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