In Hermanus a debate is raging around unleashed dogs. I present my analysis of this highly emotive and divisive issue to the editor of The Village NEWS:

In times of crisis and significant despair, people are most traumatised by their own sense of helplessness – their inability to “make things right”. To counter this trauma, they will focus on small and trivial issues as the source of all the trouble. Anything small and trivial enough to be under their control will suffice.

Through manipulation of this thing and the resultant feeling of power and authority, their sense of helplessness is at least starting to be diluted. Of course, as an outside observer, it is clear that this is futile without any impact, but there will be no way to convince the perpetrator(s) of this.

I think it is fair to say that in South Africa, our own sense of despair and helplessness has grown and grown over the past decade and for many of us it is reaching fever pitch. In the community of Hermanus, this sense may even be elevated, due to repeated protest actions over the past few years, as well as land occupation(s), environmental and economic destruction as a result of these, and of course, the general lawlessness as reflected by massive ongoing poaching.

Ordinary folk in Hermanus have been searching and struggling to find any issue through which they can express their anger, “put things right” and “save our dear town”.

It seems to me that this issue has now been identified: dogs running around unleashed. And it is being attacked with a fervour that is typical of a traumatised mob on a crusade. Suddenly it is a scientific (sic) fact that:

  • Unleashed dogs are the biggest danger facing anyone venturing into public spaces. Pathways and nature walks are off-limits due to the danger posed by dogs running around wildly.
  • Criminal activity on these walks is nothing compared to the danger posed by free-running dogs. In fact, it is now a criminal activity to allow your dog(s) to run free.
  • Dog poo on the cliff paths and the beaches is the single biggest contribution to pollution and environmental destruction that our beloved town is facing. It may even be the cause of climate change?
  • The same dogs running around with abandon are threatening our precious (and endangered) wildlife, like breeding black oystercatchers, other birds, dassies etc.
  • The Blue Flag status of our beaches is threatened by unleashed dogs and dog poo – thus they pose a significant economic threat to all and sundry as well.

So, this is the issue that many ordinary folks have identified as the root cause of all our troubles and problems in Hermanus. And this is the one issue that must be set right, then everything will be OK; things will revert to “normal” and our town and our way of life will have been saved.

Not everybody agrees with this – indeed many think this sets us on the path to a cynical, bureaucratic and pet-unfriendly Hermanus that is very different to the town and lifestyle we love – and the debate has been raging on social media since around October last year.

Once one understands why people are so psyched by this (according to my own simplified analysis above), one realises the futility of the debate. One also realises that in their own minds (most) people caught up in this fervour are doing so for the “greater good” – so could one really convince them of the contrary? The obvious answer is: No!

I believe it is more constructive for us to focus on the real drivers behind this issue. And throughout the debate on social media, the key question has often been asked: who is pushing this agenda so hard and why? The answer is clear. This issue has been relentlessly driven and the debate stoked by the Overstrand Municipality (OM) – or at least the political apparatchiks behind OM. The stoking of this debate is witnessed in:

  • The posting of notices on social media virtually daily about the bylaw prohibiting free-running dogs anywhere on public property. Every time such a notice is posted, strong reaction (from both sides) is evoked and the debate just starts over again.
  • Posts that proclaim the environmental damage caused by free-running dogs posted equally often. As I stated previously, this is the new science.
  • The reintroduction of dog licences (a relic from the ‘70s) – carefully timed at the height of the debate – to manage and control this scourge in our society.
  • OM acknowledging its inability to enforce the legislated fines but indicating that errant dogs will be removed from their owners and may be “liquidated”.

Why is OM pushing this so hard? It is an easy and convenient way for the apparatchiks to divert attention away from their own massive failings over the past few years; failings which ironically have directly contributed (and still contribute today) to the very sense of helplessness and trauma parts of our society are experiencing. The strategy seems to be that by giving those parts of the community something to celebrate and crow about – that will take the heat off us.

To my fellow dog lovers and owners who are clearly baffled, frustrated and indeed angered by this machination, my advice is this: let us ignore it and above all not participate (anymore) in the debate. Never mind how much it is stoked and provoked (and it will be!), let us do what our fellow citizens in Zwelihle, Mount Pleasant or Hawston are doing: ignore it and treat it as the joke and idiocy it really is.

But, let us also hit back at the apparatchiks and refocus our minds and the debate on the real issues and threats facing our town and community, and how we are going to solve those – without the apparatchiks of course!

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