Sat Oct 22 15:35:18 SAST 2016

Priorities are skewed

By unknown | Jan 29, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

What I would like to write about today is the death of David Rattray, the historian who dedicated his life to bringing to life Zulu history and the battle of Isandlwana.

Those who had the honour and the pleasure of seeing Rattray take guests on the four-hour tour through the battlefields will tell of his enthusiasm, his genius and his love for this soil and its people.

Rattray was killed on Friday in yet another senseless crime. So I shall not write about him or crime. I shall not because I am tired. I am tired of speaking to leaders who do not care that their people are dying.

I am tired of writing about crime when Jackie Selebi, the national police commissioner, says we are all making a "fuss" about nothing. I am tired of writing about crime when the president of the country says crime is a mere "perception". I am tired when the safety and security minister, Charles Nqakula, says those of us who speak should "leave the country".

They have won. We, the ordinary people, the small people, will just go on dying and being mugged and our mothers and sisters raped. All this, including the death of Rattray, is a mere perception. They have won.

So I will write about another group of people who have chosen to be blind to what is happening around them. I am speaking about the leaders of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) who last week kicked up a fuss about Tony Yengeni's ritual sacrifice of an ox at his cleansing ceremony.

Let me start by saying I have never slaughtered an animal for any ritual. I don't believe in the stuff. But I grew up with everyone around me believing and slaughtering.

The key word in the whole process and ritual is belief. Many of our people believe that if one has been in jail, for example, one needs to "cleanse" oneself. There are many instances in which an animal may be slaughtered - birth, death, marriage, celebration.

At the core of the beliefs is that one communicates with those who have come before, tells them what is happening in the present and invites them to bless it. It is a belief so deep, so rooted, that one cannot and should not even try to fiddle with it. It is what makes people wake up in the morning and want to continue to live, work and succeed. It is what makes people want to have kids and continue the circle of life.

The hullabaloo that was caused by the SPCA last week fails to respect this deep religiosity of the ritual. In standing up and speaking for the rights of the animal, without once thinking about the rights of the Yengenis, the SPCA and the many - unfortunately white - people who called into radio stations and other media showed their deep alienation from the reality of this country.

Their criticism sought to say that Yengeni and those who hold his beliefs are barbaric individuals who care not a whit for animals.

Indeed, for many of us, this came across not as a campaign for the rights of animals, but rather as a campaign against the beliefs of blacks in general.

Many experts have already written about how well looked-after animals are in general in good black families. Of course, there are instances of cruelty - as happens in communities across the world from England to Azerbaijan - but this is an exception rather than the rule.

What is most hideous about the opportunistic attacks on Yengeni for many of us is that more space was given to this non-issue than to real matters of importance in our country.

Shouldn't we all, for example, be discussing the case of Marcel Nel, the Limpopo farmer who was found guilty of killing 11-year-old Sello Pete on his farm?

You will remember Nel said he mistook the boy for a rabid stray dog that had been giving him trouble.

Nel was fined a mere R20000 or five years' imprisonment, with half of both suspended for five years. Nel has paid R10000 and everything is fine.

There has been absolutely no peep from the likes of the SPCA or any such bodies about this. What I do know for sure is that the parents of poor Sello Pete are asking: what country is this, where a mere fine is enough punishment for the death of our child, while for a whole week we fight over animal rights?

Something is wrong when so much that is terrible happens in our country and yet we have people who call themselves activists ignoring the death of a child and howling about the ritualistic death of an ox.

Something is wrong when people try to paint a whole system of belief as illegitimate in a country where the constitution grants such beliefs dignity and standing.


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