Eye on dog fight culture

Imizamo Yethu friends, at back, from left, Sinovuyo Cebani, Paul Spayine and Apheleli Nguqu, infront are, David Lubano, Sivuyile Mzomba and Sinye Kechem. They have turned their backs on dog fighting.

Bets of between R50 and R500 are being placed on regular dog fights in Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg and as far afield as Ocean View, despite authorities efforts to clamp down on the brutal practice.

While dog fights usually take place in secret, a group of six young men from Imizamo Yethu opened up to the Sentinel during our investigation into dog fighting in Hout Bay.

They made shocking disclosures about just how popular and brutal the illegal blood sport is.

In 2013, a video showing what appeared to be a group of boys hosting a dog fight above Hangberg went viral, prompting an investigation by the SPCA. At the time, the organisation said bets on dog fighting, which it has described as “rampant crime” in South Africa, were a feature common on the Cape Flats and could take the form of sexual favours, weapons or drugs.
However, according to the group of men from Imizamo Yethu, the savage fights are equally common in Hout Bay. They told the Sentinel they had given up dog fighting “two months ago” as their dogs either had been removed by the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG) or “shot dead” by rival dog owners, the savage fights are equally common in Hout Bay.

“We stopped with the dog fights because the police told us not to do it, but also because all our dogs, except my dog, Sadie, were either taken away or shot dead after the fights,” said 19-year-old David Lubano.

“We bet R50 on a fight, but some people also place R500 on a fight. The fights happen everywhere – IY, Hangberg and Ocean View. There are a lot of fights in Hangberg. The fights happen on weekends or maybe on a Friday.”

Asked how these fights were organised, another member of the group, Paul Spayine, said rival dog owners would see people who owned dogs and ask whether they were interested in arranging a fightchallenge each other.

The dogs breeds include Pit bulls and numerous cross-breeds were commonly used in the fights.
“We kept our dogs fit by taking them up to the dunes there (on the Sandy Bay side of Hout Bay) and walking them.”

But we also made them aggressive by keeping them in a cage. We won’t feed them, maybe one or two days in a row. Then they want to fight,” David said.

While the youths say they have stopped holding dog fights, they say they might do so again if believe they would go back to it if their economic circumstances did not improve they need the money.

“We are desperate for money, and you can make money from the fights.” David said.
Although they have taken the decision to refrain from dog fighting, at least in the short term, the friends Also, they said they would continue to own dogs “for protection” from criminal elements in the township.

Youth unemployment in both Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg is high, with 47.9 percent having only some secondary schooling, according to Statistics South Africa. So, many younger people spend their days smoking tik or becoming embroiled in illegal money-making activities like dog fighting, which is outlawed in South Africa prohibited in South Africa in terms of the Animal Protection Act number 71 of 1962.

The Sentinel was introduced to the group by Imizamo Yethu community leader Kenny Tokwe, who has been helping them in drug rehabilitation and other social reform programmes this year.

During the site visit, he Mr Tokwe pointed out an open piece of land near the old fire station, set to be upgraded as the Inkwenkwezi Youth Centre, where dog fights are believed to take place regularly. This area is also used by church groups for outdoor services.

A security guard there confirmed that fights took place on weekends, although she had not seen any money change hands.

“It seems like they do it for fun,” said the guard, who did not want to named. “I would say each fight takes about 10 minutes.”

Mr Tokwe said he knew youngsters in the township were starting to keep and train dogs to fight.

“You see them a lot know. It seems to be status thing with these young guys. I also see them taking their dogs down to the Hout Bay soccer field sometimes. I’m sure they’re having fights there,” he said.
Hangberg community leader Pastor Philip Frans said he was aware that dog fights took place in the ditches above the precinct.

“I also see a lot of youngsters walking around with pit bulls. You know those dogs have been involved in dog fighting because they have severe damage to their faces. There are a lot of these dogs,” he said.

“Many of these youngsters are on drugs, and they bet on the fights to win money for drugs or the drugs themselves. We need people to investigate this phenomenon properly.”

Darg spokeswoman Nathalee Kamieth said Darg had not removed animals from dog fighting syndicates or the like, nor had it heard of animals being shot.

“Darg are not an inspectorate and do not have the authority to confiscate animals. Animals are surrendered to Darg only on written authority from the owner of the animals,” she said.

Tip-offs about dog fighting were passed on to the SPCA to investigate.
Ms Kamieth said Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu residents had told Darg about dog fighting in their neighbourhoods.

In the instances where Darg had received tip-offs or information pertaining to alleged dog fighting, the information has been passed on to the SPACE, who in turn have investigated the same.

She said the organisation was aware of alleged fighting taking place in Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg based on the information relayed via residents of these areas.

“It has also been brought to DARG’s attention via members of both communities that when DARG team members or the DARG vehicle enters either of the areas, the alleged sybdicate members go to ground and hide in homes with dogs that are allegedly used for fighting. Members of the two communities are also reluctant to provide too much information for fear of repercussions against them by alleged gang or syndicate members,” said Ms Kamieth.

Should the public suspect clandestine criminal activity specifically with regards to dog fighting, they are urged to contact the Dog fighting can be reported to the NSPCA by emailing nspca@nspca.co.za or calling 011 907 3590 nationally.