Thandi Modise: Another survivor on SA’s ‘Animal Farm’

“I am not a farmer. I am trying to farm. I am learning. But if you are a woman and you are learning you are not allowed to make mistakes,” Thandi Modise.

National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise made this statement soon after it was found that the animals on her Modderfontein farm had turned to cannibalism in order to survive – with pigs feeding on other dead pigs and drinking their own urine.

Modise’s statement may well ring true. In a society conditioned to judge women too harshly, she may truly believe that because she is a woman, she is a bad farmer – or that she is being judged too harshly for erring. It’s sad but it’s true. 

In years gone by, incompetent men were hired over competent women based purely on their gender. Women needed to be exemplary, and come with multitudes of mentions and accolades on the off chance that they were awarded leadership positions. Still, the quota didn’t match. 

Incompetent men have been filling decision-making roles for centuries. In 2004, a member of the European Union committee for Women’s rights Astrid Lulling mentioned that incompetence has never barred men from occupying office. If gender equality in office is in fact hiring just as many incompetent women as incompetent men in top positions, then South Africa, refreshingly, you are there.

So is this really a gender issue then? Is Modise pre-empting a sexist situation when there’s none to be had? Because honestly, the conditions on her farm were beyond a mistake (first), and second, pigs (and other animals) don’t care what gender you are or what race you are for that matter, as long as they’re cared for. 

Truth is, man or woman, Modise messed this up. Spectacularly. What was necessary here was an admission of that a degree of accountability – and not an assumption that leaned toward the fact that any of this happened (or that it was inexcusable) because she was a woman.

Pigs are known survivors. George Orwell knew this when he penned Animal Farm. In the book, two pigs lead a rebellion and drive an irresponsible and drunken farmer – Mr Jones from the farm. Soon after, they adopt the Seven Commandments of Animalism to guide them, but later, after a new elite has arisen, the commandments are replaced with this one: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

Pigs are omnivores, and one of the few animals that will eat and drink almost anything in order to survive – such was the behaviour on Modise’s own farm, but if pigs are eating pigs, and there are no pigs left, where will the bacon come from? 

In the Animal Farm of South Africa, all animals are equal, regardless of gender. Our Constitution lends itself to that. But the behaviour of politicians and leaders, male or female does tend to take the latter portion of the quote more seriously; “some are more equal than others”. They are more equal than others. 

The pigs on the farm, who continue to run the system, tarnished character after tarnished character, will do almost anything to survive.

To remain in a position of power, they summon up excuse after excuse, whether it means playing the race card, or in Modise’s case: (almost refreshingly) the gender card. But this is not a gender issue. It’s a people in our system issue. It’s an animals on our farm issue. And if they continue to do whatever they can in order to exonerate themselves, how long before they start eating each other? Who will bring home South Africa’s bacon then?

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