“Idonki!” Donkeys Play Vital Role in South Africa

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The kids can see him coming from the top of the hill.

They run out to the edges of the dirt roads of the township, pointing and shouting “idonki!” the Xhosa word for donkey.

He smiles and waves back, exchanging greetings in Xhosa to the people who are both his neighbors and clients.

Mlunguseli Chaki makes a living with his donkeys.

He has four adults and two young ones, and chances are that if you see donkeys roaming the streets and scavenging for food, they belong to him.

Chaki makes his living by driving a donkey caravan into the bush, about 2 kilometers from the township, where he chops wood to sell.

When people in the township need wood for construction, for fires, or anything else, they place an order with him.

For each log of wood, he charges 50 cents (around 3 rand). A bulk order is about 20 rand (about 3 U.S. dollars).

At this price, Chaki brings in about 80 rand per week, or $13.

But that income is not spent on animal upkeep. Chaki does not keep the donkeys in a stable or even feed them — he lets his donkeys roam the township freely and find their own food.

When it comes time to round up the donkeys for a trip into the bush, it can take several hours to track them down and rope them into the caravan.

Each donkey is worth about 450 rand ($75) — but when he bought them in 1992, he only paid 150 rand ($25).

It’s an investment that Chaki says has paid off. He said he is fortunate to have his job because it’s enough to put food on the table for his family of seven.