February 2 to February 8 2007

A whole lot of bull

I am struck by the moral dishonesty of those who attacked the SPCA’s response to the slaughtering ritual Tony Yengeni was responsible for (”The great bull debate”, January 26). If someone objects to ”cultural practices” like bride burning, dry sex or female genital excision, is she also guilty of ”selective racism”? Hardly. The moral disvalue of killing and causing suffering trumps ”cultural” considerations — and is indivisible across sex, race and species. — Kai Horsthemke

Yengeni’s constitutional right to perform rituals of his culture without prejudice has been violated. I cannot imagine anything less than payment of damages for offending and attempting to criminalise the traditional African practice of slaughtering animals as an offering to ancestors. — Morgan Phaahla, Ekurhuleni

It is not good enough to dismiss the concerns of animal rights activists on the grounds of ”it is our culture”. Culture, like everything else in life, can and must change when it is superseded by the law.

My challenge to Sandile Memela and others who would defend barbarism in the guise of culture: if, hypothetically, a tribe of cannibals were to join the throng of refugees and fortune-seekers to South Africa and demanded the right to perform cannibalistic rituals, would you condone it? — Jonathan Ossher, Uitenhage

It seems that those who write in defence of our cultural heritage are of the belief that cruelty to animals is part of our cultural values. This is not true. I have been to many traditional ceremonies where bulls were slaughtered. In all, the killing is left to an expert who can kill by inflicting as little pain as possible. — Dumisani Lloyd Mkhize, California

Yengeni’s inherited view that a speared bull bellows to communicate with its ancestors as opposed to a psycho-physiological response to pain is as absurd as believing his Range Rover starts not by the turn of ignition, sparks and mechanics but by some god throwing down a lightning bolt.

We selectively embrace tradition and rituals for other reasons, rarely for tradition in itself. There are many examples: the Spanish and their bullfights; the Norwegians and whale hunting. These are all perversions of traditions because the hoped outcome and spiritual intent can never be the same as it was when the tradition was developed and began to emerge.

So, until we can laugh at the lunacy of man inflicting pain to connect to gods and ancestors, I’ll continue my donations to the SPCA, my disdain for politicians and my conversion to vegetarianism. — Brent Johnson, Cape Town

Cultural relativism is essential in a multicultural society. I hold this dear for all beliefs but not all practices, especially those that profess bloodshed or environmental insensitivity.

I believe it a scientific humility to suspend absolute judgement on almost any exotic view, but one should always ask what will happen to this world if the entire humanity decides to act or engage accordingly. By my subjective criteria, I disqualify going soft on killing and maiming as ”cultural relativism”.

On January 22 at 8.50am John Robbie interviews a ”proudly” white sangoma, a sober sounding lady who explains that the ancestors do demand a squeal from the sacrificed animal. Can you imagine the staggering amount of bizarre rituals one has to condone by stomaching this one in one’s endeavour to ”understand” the rites that bought us Aids relief by raping virgins. — Steve Hofmeyr, Midrand

We applaud Drew Forrest’s commentary and would like to remark that we are puzzled by provincial minister Sonwabile Mancotywa’s sentimental condoning of how cattle are treated.

Cows are penned, shadelessly, in the 45°C heat and live their lives standing in their own manure. Farmers admit that, given a choice, they would move out of the sun. Humans treated this way would be considered to be tortured. Similarly, persons prodded with a spear to generate ”bellowing”.

That this matter has been at all newsworthy, however, is a welcome sign of the growing ethical maturity of our nation. — David and Clive Bellamy, Riebeek Kasteel

A memoir, not a textbook

After reading Bryan Rostron’s critique (”Rider Haggard rides again”, January 26), I went back to Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun to check whether it was in any way described as an accurate historical description of what is going on in Zimbabwe. All that it purports to be is a ”memoir” written in a very personal style and probably not totally objective.

Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Rostron, it wasn’t meant to be a ”politically correct” book about Africa or Zimbabwe, only a novel that many people liked. — Pieter Wolvaardt, Grahamstown North

Could an experienced writer like Rostron have completely misunderstood Godwin’s book? If not, what could be the explanation for his scurrilous attack on the author and the book?

Godwin is upfront in the book that he is a white, middle-class English-speaking male who grew up in Zimbabwe when the white minority still called it Rhodesia. He writes with honesty and sensitivity about events and attitudes that touched him.

If he pretended to be writing on behalf of black Zimbabweans, Rostron would probably have crucified him 10 times over — and I would have joined in.

Sure, we need more black Africans to write about life in Africa, but until that happens, should we ban white Africans from writing about their experiences?

As a passionate African, I also found parts uncomfortable to read. But I did not experience it as racist or as ”one-sided hyperbole”. To call it an ”excitable colonial-scented yarn” is to demonstrate either ignorance or malice. — Max du Preez, Napier

No apology

I was intrigued to read in Kwanele Sosibo’s review of Phillip Napier’s exhibition that ”an apology was one of the prerequisites for receiving amnesty for participation in apartheid-era politically motivated crimes” (Friday, January 26).

For all its faults, trivialising the amnesty process (drop an apology and you are free) is not a label the truth commission deserves. The TRC Act was clear. You received amnesty if you fulfilled three criteria: the act was politically motivated, you gave full disclosure and the act was proportional to the motive. Apologising for crimes was not part of the criteria, with the result that some apartheid perpetrators received amnesty with no sense of regret evident in their demeanour.

A simplistic rendition of what was a complex social project will leave us all the poorer, and less able to interpret the challenges of dealing with our past in ways to construct a meaningful and shared future. — Leslie London, Health and Human Rights Programme, University of Cape Town

Oscar Wilde? I beg your pardon!

As an ardent admirer of Oscar Wilde’s wit and wisdom, it pains me to see Ronald Suresh Roberts compare himself to the great man (January 26).

If anything, Roberts reminds me of Dan Roodt, his fellow martyr-in-training: both breathtakingly self-righteous, given to the repeated use of catchphrases (”second-class citizens” for Roodt; ”colonial media” for Roberts) — and both massive pains in the arse of the body politic. Sadly, no amount of Anusol slapped on the offending area will cure us of either of them. — Sarah Britten, Parklands

I suspect that, while Wilde is well remembered a century after his death, Roberts will not be remembered 100 years from now. — Robert Legh, Johannesburg

Roberts’s statement on the president, that ”[Thabo] Mbeki’s genuine radicalism … [is that] he doesn’t care what the old establishment thinks”, does not give much hope for the veracity of his forthcoming biography of Mbeki.

To take three examples: the president’s advisory council dominated by foreign business executives, the tone of the Nepad initiative and Mbeki’s positive statements on the seemingly defunct Brenthurst Initiative — all have attempted to pacify what are arguably the present-day manifestations of what was the ”old establishment”. One could define the ”old establishment” sufficiently narrowly for the latter part of Roberts’s statement to be true, but then we are left with an image of ”radicals” stamping on molehills while the mountains loom unchallenged. — Sean Muller, Cape Town

As brilliant as Roberts is, his Yank ways and delusions merely add mud to our already busy day. The doos from the US noord-oos is a bullshit artist par none, and the tabloid way in which we’re covering this story is worrying — and self-destructive from a thinking point of view. — Des Latham

Trollip’s Dictorial Alliance

I have heard Athol Trollip referred to as the ”führer” or dictator, because of his autocratic management style. The letters ”DA” are regarded, under his regime, as standing for ”Dictatorial Alliance”. Trollip a national DA leader is a recipe for disaster for the party. — A Mahlulo, Mdantsane

Mary Woodhall (Letters, January 19) makes a number of unfounded allegations against myself.

I did not stand for ”re-election” on the party’s provincial electoral list in 2003 as the party’s national position is that all nine provincial leaders automatically take the first position on the party’s provincial lists for elections.

At the DA’s Eastern Cape provincial congress in 2005, the province took a decision to hold its provincial congresses every two years. This alternates with the party’s federal congress, which is also held every two years. In fact, in contradiction to Woodhall’s groundless statement, I have been re-elected provincial leader unopposed at every provincial congress since my election in 2002.

Under my leadership, the DA in the Eastern Cape has thrived. From 1999 to 2004 it has increased its provincial and national parliamentary representation from one to 10 MPs. In 2004, we became the official opposition in the provincial legislature.

In the legislature I have led a campaign to unite the opposition against the ANC. By uniting the opposition we have been better able to hold the ANC to account in a province wracked by service delivery problems. — Athol Trollip, DA provincial leader

Get-rich ethos

Something has gone horribly wrong when the pursuit of money leads to food being taken from the mouths of hungry children (January 26).

In his Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture last year, President Thabo Mbeki did more than just condemn the ”Get rich!” ethos embraced by the new black elite. He characterised it as the essential motivator of capitalism.

Is the primary purpose of the school-feeding scheme to feed children or to provide a business opportunity for people driven to get rich?

All essential services beg the same question. Do they exist to meet universal human needs or is public money on tap to finance private ambitions to ”Get rich! Get Rich! Get rich!”? — Jeff Rudin, Cape Town

In brief

In the article ”High noon in Haiti” (January 26), John Matshikiza implied that coloureds are the products of ”mulattoism — the uneasy but inevitable merger between black and white blood”. It is disturbing that a usually intelligent writer could peddle such archaic and racist hogwash. Coloureds are the offspring of the Khoisan people. The uneasy but inevitable truth is that they are the indigenous people of Southern Africa. — Rosa Whittaker, Swakopmund

The African Union summit should be commended for its principled stance in not electing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as its chairperson. As peace-loving peoples of Africa, we should take a dim view of backroom deals brokered to entice leaders to do the right thing. In this case, the right thing is for al-Bashir to stop the ”humanitarian disaster” in Darfur. It should need no cajoling for any leader to protect all citizens of the country that he leads. — Tembile ”Terror” Yako, Windsor East

The ANC Youth League is a skeleton of its former self, an embarrassment to the liberation movement and a betrayer of young people. We’ve seen structures dissolved arbitrarily, capable cadres expelled at the altar of personal egos and opportunism. What has happened to the youth league of Malusi [Gigaba], [Peter] Mokaba, Febe [Potgieter], [Billy] Masetlha and [Jackie] Selebi? We are yearning for their type of leadership. — Thupana Kgoale and Lepelle Nkumpi, Capricorn

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