The most dangerous dogs of the apartheid era make a bloody comeback
BLOEMFONTAIN, South Africa––Adriana Salomina van Deventer, widow of David van Deventer, on July 4, 2019 in the High Court of South Africa, Bloemfontain Division, won an eight-year battle to establish that her husband was killed by a boerboel belonging to former friend Hennie Botha, not by pre-existing medical conditions.
The appellate verdict confirmed that boerboels are back in contention with pit bulls for the dubious distinction of deadliest dogs in South Africa, after killing two people in first 52 days of 2019 and nearly killing two others.
But rivaling pit bulls as perhaps canine Public Enemy #1 has not come easily for boerboels.
Pit bulls lethal as ever
Eight pit bulls over the same 52 days took part in killing a five-year-old foster child in White River and a gardener in Roodepoort.
Then, on March 12, 2019, two pit bulls nearly tore the breasts off of mother-of-four Samantha Steyn, 27, of Heideveld, near Cape Town, leaving her unable to nurse her youngest child, age two months.
The pit bulls’ owner gave Steyn a can of baby formula, admitted to Daily Voice reporter Genevieve Serra that she had left her gate open, and after trying to dissuade Serra from writing about the attack, said “I won’t let them put my dogs down.”
Boerboel mauled churchgoer
The only good news for South Africans minding their own business while others’ “protection” dogs run amok may have been a March 14, 2019 ruling by the Gauteng High Court that boerboel owner George Jones, of Andeon, northwest of Pretoria, is 100% responsible for injuries inflicted on his tenant Susanna Mostert on December 5, 2015.
Mostert fell while walking Jones’ wife home from church, was mauled by the boerboel, and was hospitalized for 33 days.
Jones had previously been warned about the boerboel’s habit of rushing Mostert, but had not fulfilled a promise to keep the boerboel contained.
Boerboels kill two in three days
The first boerboel victim of 2019, Dharmaseelan Aubrey Moodley, 49, of Northcroft, was mauled by both a boerboel and a pit bull (misidentified in some early reports as a Labrador retriever) on February 18, while walking to a friend’s house.
Moodley, whose windpipe was crushed, was also bitten on the head, and lost flesh from his arms, torso and legs. Moodley died at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital after a week in intensive care.
Two boerboels kept by a relative killed an elderly woman on February 21, 2019, Roodepoort/ Krugersdorp SPCA director Mandy Cattanach confirmed to media. As is often the case in South Africa, the victim’s name was not disclosed.
More boerboel mayhem
That attack came only 24 hours after boerboel/Rhodesian ridgeback crosses and two Dobermans mauled dentistry student Kayleigh Penniken, 20, also in Roodeport. Penniken apparently got between the dogs who injured her and her own pit bull.
The string of boerboel attacks continued on March 1, 2019 when a 60-year-old resident of Verulam, near Durban, reportedly suffered extensive blood loss from bites to the head inflicted by his own three-year-old boerboel.
Boerboels are little known outside of South Africa, though the breed drew a flurry of attention in the U.S. in May 2017 after a boerboel killed breeder Jane Marie Egle, 59, in Buncombe County, North Carolina.
Pits out-kill boerboels by ratio of 12-1
Within South Africa, the boerboel reputation has for about 15 years been eclipsed by pit bulls. Since 2004 South African pit bulls have out-killed boerboels, 60 to five, a ratio of 12-1, and have out-killed all other dogs, 60 to 21, a ratio of 20-7
Until the recent explosion of pit bull mayhem, however, explained Lance van Sittert and Sandra Swart in “Canis Familiaris: A Dog History of South Africa” (2003), published by the South African Historical Journal, boerboels were for centuries considered the scariest dogs in the region.
Boerboels were also were living symbols of the era of racial segregation, called apartheid, enforced by the South African government from 1948 to 1991.
“Canine defense of white privilege & property”
Wrote van Sittert and Swarth, “The canine defense of white privilege and property was miniaturized to the private farm and home where breeds renowned for their fierceness were kept or created – such as the boerboel and colossus – as deterrent to the real and imagined threat of black revolt and redistribution. Dogs, as much as people, patrolled and maintained the white cities and countryside of post-colonial South Africa and time and again were catalysts and actors along its social frontiers.”
The Dutch Afrikaan word “boer” means “farmer,” but boerboels [boer + bull, as in pit bull] were always guard dogs much more than farm dogs used for herding or other actual farm work, such as pulling carts or running on treadmills to power butter churns.
The proto-boerboel was a “bullenbitjer,” or “bull-biter,” a bullmastiff-type baiting and fighting dog imported by Jan van Riebeeck, one of the first Dutch settlers to land at Cape Horn, the future site of the city of Cape Town, in 1652.
Current breed histories identify boerboels as a dog developed to hunt lions, keep caracals and jackals away from sheep, and roust baboons from field crops. Reality is that boerboels, much larger and more aggressive than the native mutts kept by the indigenous black majority, were used chiefly to help Afrikaaners maintain political and cultural dominance.
Older breed histories acknowledge that boerboels share ancestry and history with Rhodesian ridgebacks, likewise used to maintain apartheid in the nation which in 1980 became Zimbabwe. Boerboels received a genetic infusion as well from European bull mastiffs imported as guard dogs by the De Beers diamond mining empire.
The most recent fatal boerboel attack in South Africa before those of 2019 apparently came in April 2016, when Mpho Mokoena, 32, of Maritzburg, was torn apart by her own boerboel and two Rottweilers while hanging laundry.
“She is the one who used to feed and play with them,” Mokoena’s sister Mmabatho Brown told Taschica Pillay of the Johannesburg Times.
Only two months earlier, in February 2016, two boerboels killed seven-year-old Twiggy Buchisa at her home in Ndola, Zambia, a nation under South African governance during the British colonial era.
Outside of Africa, boerboels are as yet little recognized as close kin to pit bulls and other “bully” breeds, with a comparable history, but there are exceptions.
Banned in Denmark
Denmark in 2010 added boerboels to the national list of banned breeds, begun with pit bulls and tosas in 1991, now also specifically including the “American bulldog” and “Staffordshire” pit bull lines, along with ovtcharkas, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros, Kangals, and Sarplaninacs (a Central European mastiff variant.)
The Turks & Caicos islands, a small Caribbean nation, in March 2014 added boerboels to a “restricted” list, which may only be kept within “premises on which the dog is secured by a fence or wall of suitable height and that such fence or wall is constructed and maintained as to prevent the escape of the dog,” behind warning signs, by persons who must be more than 21 years of age.
In addition, the Turks & Caicos require that boerboels must be sterilized and microchipped.