I’ve watched with interest over the last week or so, the mounting brouhaha about the alleged ‘stabbing’ by Tony Yengeni (former ANC Chief Whip) of a bull. It’s actually useful when events like this take place in our country. If only because they provide a forum for dialogue and hopefully a deeper understanding of each other’s ‘culture’.
Particularly when it's the irksome task of straddling two cultures.
Yengeni accommodating two worlds.
Animal rights organizations and activists don’t want animals killed at all. Animal welfare organizations, like our own SPCA, don’t want cruel or prolonged slaughter. Understood. But let’s accept that for large numbers of people around the world, hand or ritual slaughter is their chosen (and therefore to be respected) tradition, however it may supposedly fly in the face of Eurocentric, Christian or other belief systems.
If you listen to Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA) President, Nkosi Phatekile Holomisa’s explanation, it makes a lot of sense. Forget whether you believe in the Ancestors or sacrifice. Having carefully listened to Holomisa’s description of the practice, here’s (I hope) a reasonably accurate paraphrase of his explanation. In this specific (Yengeni) instance, it was an ox. Not a bull. Technicality perhaps, but let’s keep to the facts.
The tradition is that when a ‘cleansing’ or other ritual is going to involve the slaughter of the animal, the spear is first simply ‘pointed at’ the animal to identify it to the Ancestors, as the one chosen for the sacrifice. If the animal bellows or makes some other sound, that is taken as a signal that the Ancestors a) Are aware it is the one about to be offered and b) Are pleased to receive this particular animal as the offering Holomisa says that if the animal does not spontaneously make a sound of some sort it should in fact ideally not be used in the ritual. Because it means it is not being acknowledged or received by the Ancestors.
However, it appears that (his words) ‘pricking’ the animal with the spear in order to elicit a sound is (as I interpreted it) kinda border-line OK. If the animal still doesn’t make a sound, it should definitely not be used. Without meaning offence, I fail utterly to see the difference between slitting the ox’s throat (it is going to be eaten after all) and the mass (sometimes pretty unskilled) slaughter of sheep under all conditions during the Muslim festival of Bakri Eid. In this Qurbani (sacrifice), it’s hopefully the jugular vein and carotid artery of the animal that is severed. This ritual commemorates the ‘almost’ sacrifice of a son by the prophet patriarch Abraham. It is re-enacted via substituting (as did he) a sheep for the son. The sacrificed flesh gets distributed and consumed.
Now to my actual point. A very high percentage of the (mainly white) people who will express outrage at the ritual slaughter of oxen, sheep and other animals, are meat eaters. They blissfully buy a plastic punnet of ‘Veal’ (nice euphemism for a baby bull) decorated with a sprig of parsley from their friendly local supermarket. They haven’t the vaguest idea what the animal went through in a terrifying ordeal through an abattoir before reaching them in that aesthetically ‘sanitised’ manner. So, if they even think to the slaughter component, they can do so without guilt. Schoolchildren were banned from abattoir tours because they emerged from the exit as vegetarians.
When I was a conscriptee in the then SADF, helping to get Portuguese refugees out of Angola in 1976, some of the chaps clubbed together to buy a Brahmin bull off a local (yes, they did pay) for a ‘regimental braai’. There just happened to be a (by trade) butcher doing his three month stint. So they shot the bull with an R1 rifle and the butcher did his skinning and quartering routine. They did the same with a good number of chickens. No R1 bullet involved, but you know what I mean. What I found fascinating was that the majority of the guys (city lads) were unable to eat that meat at the braai. Witnessing (probably in most cases for the first time) what really happens before the steak arrives on the braai, caused spontaneous loss of appetite.
Many people still hunt game as a recreation. I travelled in a light aircraft from Limpopo province with some German tourist ‘hunters’ (clearly rank amateurs) who were laughing uproariously at one of their number who consistently missed the sought-after ‘heart-shot’ in the buck he was aiming at. Instead he blew its hindquarters to bits – leaving one of his slightly more skilled peers to deliver the coup de grace.
If you eat meat, then know and accept accountability or co-responsibility for what the process was before you consume it. You have no real idea what the animal you’re eating went through in crammed, desperately hot, waterless truck transportation, the terrifying wait as it was press-ganged, with flared nostrils toward a slaughter stun-bolt in the head. Which often doesn’t work too well as a stun mechanism and the animal is raised aloft upside down, by one leg and has its throat slit and tendons cut whilst still conscious. The bleeding is also in the interests of producing Kosher or Halaal meat by the way. OK – not all in one common slaughterhouse, but it’s a similar process. Same with chickens. Bled to death or else they don’t conform to the religious requirements. The animal may not be dead before it is bled. I may not like the concept, but I respect the traditions.
Being vegetarian doesn’t say too much. I know of some ghastly, lying, cheating Hindus who think they’re superior because they don’t eat flesh. But as Jesus Christ said, ‘It is not that which goes into your mouth that defiles you, but that which comes out of it.’ I haven’t eaten meat or chicken since 1972. Do I feel superior? No. Adolf Hitler was a vegan vegetarian, dammit. Not a great ad for the ‘club’!
We need to pause and think a little more carefully before we swing into self-righteous condemnation of other people’s cultural traditions and beliefs. There are no ‘superior’ or ‘inferior’ traditions. They’re just very different. Look at any cultural or ethnic group around the world and at what and how they slaughter. There’s actually very little to fuss about in the African tradition of slaughtering. Before abattoirs (cruel as they are) and other more westernised methods of killing were popularised, how the heck do you think the animals died? If you’re a meat eater, live with it. Just because it’s giraffe or dog or bear doesn’t make it terrible - just different.