A Forward Thinking Leader
We are proud to outline below a profile of our Executive Director, Marcelle Meredith.
In 1985, Marcelle Meredith was appointed the first Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA). She was appointed as a full-time executive director in 1992 to manage and develop the staff at the NSPCA - a position which she holds to date.
Marcelle's unselfish commitment to animal welfare has been recognised within our own country and internationally. In 2012, Marcelle was the winner in the Eco-Angel award category of the Enviropaedia Eco-Logic Awards. In the same year the Humane Society of the United States, honoured Marcelle with an award for "extraordinary commitment and achievement in animal protection.” In 2016 Marcelle was awarded the Jeanette McDermott award for animal welfare – an award created in Canada by World Animal Protection in 1996 “in recognition of someone’s life devoted to animal welfare”.
“Marcelle has done amazing work for the past decades and for the cause of animal welfare. She has used her years on the international platform to advance the cause of animal welfare in Africa. I thank her profusely for all her work and dedication.” – Dominique Bellemare, Chairman of World Animal Protection, Canada.
Marcelle's insight, dedication and forward thinking have been major contributors to improving the lives of countless animals in our country. Her compassion and courage has become the benchmark to which others aspire.
We note some of the landmarks and achievements during Marcelle's leadership. Through nurturing and developing the NSPCA, the organisation has grown and expanded, bringing hope to all animal species. We applaud Marcelle's tenacity and commitment to their welfare.
Governed by Statute
Marcelle was one of the original authors of the Minimum Criteria which related to the welfare standards for running an SPCA, including the mandatory sterilisation of all dogs and cats being homed. After much deliberation and negotiation with member societies, the SPCA Act No. 169 of 1993 became law, and by this Act of Parliament, the organisation became a Statutory Body. The Act spells out how the NSPCA and its members must operate.
Power to institute Private Prosecutions
In December 2016, following a unanimous judgement handed down in the Constitutional Court it was ruled that the NSPCA has the statutory power to institute private prosecutions, which power is conferred upon it by section 6(2)(e) of the SPCA Act 169 of 1993 read with section 8 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 0f 1977. This is a notable victory for the welfare of animals in South Africa and testimony of Marcelle Meredith’s determination to ensure protection for animals under the law.
South African National Standards
It is the method of Marcelle Meredith and the NSPCA as a welfare organisation to work with certain industries to promote change and ensure welfare standards. One method of doing so that has taken place over recent years is the establishment of South African National Standards through the SABS. These Standards are supporting evidence to the Animals Protection Act and are legally enforceable if read in conjunction with the Animals Protection Act or other relevant legislation. Numerous National Standards have been completed in respect of wild animals and farmed animal species as well as for animals used in research. Far from being administrative work, the national standards and codes have an undoubted impact on the treatment and handling of animals.
Far from being administrative work, the national standards and codes outlined above have an undoubted impact on the treatment and handling of animals.
"Livestock” – Farm Animals
If we had to identify a key area where Marcelle has shown exceptional passion and commitment, it would be in the field of uplifting the welfare of farm animals. She initiated the then Livestock Unit which later became the Farm Animal Protection Unit and encompassed all aspects of the care and protection of farm animals. A noteworthy achievement took place in 1991 when the NSPCA was successful in obtaining an agreement that all cattle would be post-stunned. In 2004, abattoirs were no longer permitted to use the rotating box with leg clamps for Kosher slaughter. The only acceptable method is an upright box with a chin lift. The 20-second post-cut stun remains enforced.
A notable achievement is the eradication of the practice of plucking ostriches whilst they are alive and fully conscious. Ostrich fall under the Farm Animal Protection Unit as they are commercially farmed.
Pro-active inspections take place of facilities where farm animals are bred, kept or used in any way. Nowadays this includes crocodiles, emus and rabbits since they are captive-bred in vast numbers and their welfare is of concern. Monitoring of abattoirs, sale yards and animals kept at correctional facilities is undertaken.
Assistance is given to emerging farm projects.
Reactive work takes place when either a complaint is received or assistance is required such as in instances of fire, floods or road accidents.
The NSPCA is also in the forefront in assisting in the control of outbreaks of Avian Influenza and African Swine Fever to ensure that the welfare of the animals is not compromised. This may be the appropriate place to mention Marcelle's humanitarian side. She has genuine concerns for her staff and not only their physical well-being. When African Swine Fever broke out and the National Department of Agriculture requested assistance from the NSPCA as mass culling was required, Marcelle took the time and trouble to visit the sites of the cull to give moral support to staff undertaking this task. The same care and concern was demonstrated when Avian Influenza has broken out and large numbers of ostriches and chickens had to be culled. Marcelle's role was supportive and caring, knowing full well the toll such work takes on staff.
Campaigns for the better treatment of animals reared for food or skins, such as the phasing out of sow crates, are undertaken. The promotion of improved labeling on products derived from animals, is paying dividends and changes for the better are afoot.
Protection of equine is an important element in animal welfare and this element includes the monitoring of their welfare in sporting events and in "entertainment.” Many activities involving horses are not approved by the NSPCA yet we monitor and take whatever action may be required and appropriate at the time. Our official statement of policy opposes animal racing. We add that the issues go beyond what happens, for example, at the racetrack and include the manner of training and the issue of when happens to a horse when it can no longer race.
Rodeo is being promoted as a "fun” activity in our country and as well as opposing this, we ensure a welfare presence at as many events as we know about. Marcelle recognised that uplifting the welfare of animals uplifts communities. An example of this is assistance given to working donkeys who are used in rural and impoverished areas as transportation not only for basic commodities including food and water – but also to take children to and from school and as ambulances. We go to them. Replacing ill-fitting, broken or inappropriate harnessing and equipment is a first step. Involvement is hands-on and includes skills development as NSPCA staff work with the owners to demonstrate and advise on the upkeep of equipment and the basic care of the donkeys.
When we state that Marcelle's leadership has been forward thinking, there is no better example than Aquaculture. When it was recognised that stocks of fish and seafood were being depleted, the concepts of Aquaculture were born: - commercial breeding en masse in "captive” situations of freshwater and marine fish and other seafood. With it came welfare issues and so the NSPCA's venture into these fields was born early in the millennium. NSPCA personnel have worked closely with the National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to the extent that we have been accepted as an active member and role player advising on welfare issues in several private institutions. A submission has been made requesting a South African Bureau of Standards Code for Aquaculture. In 2010, Marcelle's previously stated goal of incorporating "fish” as an active portfolio within the National Council of SPCAs came to fruition.
Import of Live Animals
In addition to stating opposition to importing live animals for slaughter, the NSPCA has worked actively in this field, Marcelle Meredith having taken a fact-finding trip to Australia in order to prevent sheep being imported from Australia into South Africa.
Export of Live Animals
Exports of live animals to Mauritius for Moslem slaughter were identified and acted upon. The NSPCA continues to monitor this issue and remains active in opposition to the practice which has been featured on more than one occasion on the actuality programme Carte Blanche.
Animal Ethics Unit
Animals in South Africa are used for scientific purposes in research, teaching and training.
The Animal Ethics Unit was established in 2001. Working towards the replacement of the use of animals, reduction in the number of animals used and the refinement of animal use is the goal of the Animal Ethics Unit whose work includes a programme of national inspections of animal research facilities. In addition, personnel from the Unit represent the National Council of SPCAs on 45 Ethics Committees including at most universities.
The Unit has undergone many changes since its establishment under Marcelle's tutelage but the direction has remained firm and unaltered. It has grown both in numbers of staff and in scope. The use of animals is not something that will be eliminated soon so the objective of the NSPCA's Animal Ethics Unit remains to ensure the welfare of animals that have to be used. There is constant progress regarding in the development of new methods for replacing animals in various fields of research, teaching and testing. Our Animal Ethics Unit therefore aims to ensure that any proposed use of animals for research is preceded by a rigorous search for a validated animal-replacement method.
Promotion of the use of alternates to animals included a two day workshop in 2012 held in conjunction with InterNICHE at Onderstepoort Veterinary Animal Hospital and then a roadshow to 6 universities where practical demonstrations were given.
In 2014 Animal Ethics Unit staff members embraced the challenge of producing a rat dissection model – the first in South Africa. After months of hard work the model was completed in 2016.
It is noted that the NSPCA covers areas in South Africa where there are no individual SPCAs. This amounts to 70% of our country's land mass. The principle adopted is that "we go to them”. Priority areas are identified and projects, which include sterilisation and health care, are planned, financed and undertaken in these areas.
It is often stated that Marcelle is a hands-on leader and this is amply demonstrated by her presence and active participation in Community Outreach programmes, truly being part of the team. There is an undoubted impact on the health of a community. The old saying is that healthy animals mean healthy people and this is absolutely correct.
Training courses were officially introduced in 1994 under the guidance and tutelage of Marcelle Meredith. With the SPCA movement enforcing of 90% of animal welfare legislation in South Africa it is imperative that training is provided for the Inspectors who undertake this task. Cadets from SPCAs throughout South Africa have attended the Inspectors Training Course, as well as delegates from other southern African countries, which to date have included Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles. Training courses are also presented to SPCA Field Officers who play a vital role in animal welfare by interacting with their communities, educating, and offering solutions to problems.
Over the years external training programmes have also been introduced to assist in equipping officials and service providers with better understanding and the ability to address animal welfare concerns in their varied work environments.
A dedicated Training Centre was established in 2012.
Wildlife Protection Unit
This Unit was formalised in 1996 under the leadership of Marcelle Meredith and has gone from strength to strength to the extent that an additional Unit has now been established focusing on specialised work relating to the trade and trafficking of wildlife.
The Wildlife Protection Unit pro-actively inspects facilities where captive wildlife is held, to check on welfare standards. This includes zoos, breeding facilities, rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries and bird and reptile parks. National pro-active work includes engagement with national and provincial authorities to improve the welfare of wildlife. Reactive work is undertaken as a response to complaints and any information which may come to hand relating to wild animals and their welfare. Elephants seem to feature prominently in the animal welfare career of Marcelle who was at the helm when criminal charges were laid against Mr Riccadro Ghiazza/African Game services in what was to become known as the Tuli Elephant case. Thirty juvenile elephants had been forcibly removed from their natural herds in the Tuli area of Botswana. They had been transported to South Africa and were being trained using a circus elephant and individuals who had come out from Malaysia to do so.
The tenacity of Marcelle Meredith in the face of criticism and hostility was a key factor in the case eventually reaching Court. A guilty verdict was handed down. The case was about more than cruelty. It should as test case of training methods, the ethical issue of removing wild animals from natural environments to captivity and the intended end-use of them.
Prevention of "Traditional Hunting” Being Legalised
When it was mooted that "traditional hunting” should be legalised because it was an African tradition to hunt and kill wildlife with dogs, Marcelle Meredith and her team stepped in to oppose. The NSPCA put its case forward to the provincial legislature of KwaZulu-Natal that hunting in this manner for survival in past times and using dogs to track and kill wildlife in the 21st century for sport and monetary gain cannot be compared. To date, this activity has not been legalised and all efforts continue to be made to keep it that way.
In April 2005 Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, announced the appointment of a Panel of Experts to advise him on the appropriate regulatory framework on recreational and professional hunting. The panel compromised conservation and environmental ethics experts and included the Marcelle Meredith, who represented animal welfare. This led to legislation being formulated which was subsequently overturned after an appeal by the SA Predator Breeder Association.
The role of the NSPCA and Marcelle Meredith in particular on this issue cannot be underestimated as the opposing faction; – the captive breeders of large predators and the canned hunting fraternity motivated the amount of money coming into South Africa via foreign exchange thanks to their operations. Ms Meredith emphasised welfare issues and that ethics should come before profit.
The breeding of lions to supply the hunting and the more recently established lion bone industry remains a serious issue of welfare concern and continues to receive the focused attention of the Wildlife Protection Unit.
Special Projects Unit
Another of Marcelle Meredith’s initiatives, and established in 1996, the Special Projects Unit handles a diverse range of animal welfare issues. Unit staff work extensively to ensure that animals transported within our own country and through our ports of entry/exit are handled humanely and with compassion. Inspections are undertaken at land border posts and airports to address issues which affect the welfare of the animals being transported. Other issues covered by the unit include animal racing, service horses and dogs used by governmental and private institutions and animal control and humane deterrents.
Successful Opposition to Legalising Dog Racing
Dog racing is illegal in South Africa and under Marcelle Meredith, the NSPCA has worked tirelessly to oppose the frequent efforts to have it legalised. This has included being named as respondents in a High Court case in Bloemfontein which motivated the legalisation of dog racing. The outcome was in our favour and costs were awarded against the applicants. The NSPCA has given evidence in various Commissions of Enquiry relating to dog racing.
"Rejected” Police Force Dogs
One of Marcelle Meredith's pet hates was the fact that until late 2006, any dog which failed its training with the South African Police Service (SAPS) was auctioned, often unsterilised, and that dog brokers, puppy farmers and security companies were always quick to hear of and attend these auctions, picking up dogs for as little as R35 which converts to around five US dollars. In late 2006, after intensive negotiation with the South African Police Service, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, in terms of which all dogs found to be unsuitable for police work would be sterilised, microchipped and donated to the SPCAs for adoption. Additionally, in terms of this agreement, the police would desist from using any training methods considered to be cruel.
A growing scourge of dog fighting led Marcelle Meredith to the decision to prioritise this portfolio in an effort to gain further understanding of the illegal activity as well as to streamline effective methods of combatting it. Numerous cases have been brought to Court to seek justice for the victims of this horrendous activity. The largest successful NSPCA raid on a dog fighting syndicate took place in 2013, and after a length, hard fought four year trial, the Tsakane case finally reached conclusion. All the dog fighters were found guilty for their participation in the criminal activity of organised dog fighting. The landmark sentencing included direct imprisonment amongst other punishments.
Supporting the SPCA in Zimbabwe
When events in neighbouring Zimbabwe became of extreme concern, Marcelle recognised not only the suffering of the animals but the potential impact on our own country. The NSPCA stepped in to establish the ZIMHELP fund and to support our neighbouring welfare organisation practically. Purchases of items including euthanase, vaccine and food were made and transported to Zimbabwe. The NSPCA financed salaries of staff in the SPCA movement Zimbabwe and has trained personnel in inspectorate work.
We live in an age of rapid communications and this has impacted on how animal welfare organisations work and operate. Marcelle has been at the forefront in forging relationships with the Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States and World Animal Protection who remain in close touch with us. In June 2016 Marcelle Meredith retired from the Board of World Animal Protection (WAP) after 16 years of service being part of the executive team and having served on various sub-committees. Mr Paul Baldwin, Chairman of the WAP Board, stated that Marcelle’s service “characterized strategic thinking, tireless efforts to increase credibility and visibility of WAP”. Her commitment, time and contribution was noted with appreciation.
Updated: 18 May 2018