Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Question of Culture
There's been a lot of talk recently about the South African front page pictures of Tony Yengeni slaughtering a cow as part of a cleansing ceremony subsequent to his release from jail. The SPCA is investigating a criminal case against Yengeni, and many people wrote letters to newspapers expressing their dismay. It must be said that the majority of these dismayed people are white.

This is a simple question of culture. We have a number of divergent cultural groups within the melting pot of South Africa, each with distinct customs, beliefs and identities. These cultures should be expressed and celebrated in the new South Africa, and at the very least, tolerated.

Ceremonial slaughtering of livestock has common roots in most cultures going back to agrarian times, where the culling of livestock was seen as the ultimate sacrifice of one's wealth and livelihood. Where European society has moved away from this, livestock still plays a huge part in the wealth and the culture of most African societies.

We need to understand where we are. We live in an African country, with African customs and traditions, and we - as white people - are the minority. Whatever we believe should be "European customs" are irrelevant. If we want European customs, we must choose to live in Europe. In Africa, you will find African customs, and we must be respectful and tolerant of those, however divergent some people see them from their own.

The treatment of certain animals is a common point of divergence in cultural matters. It's a similar gripe I have with the SPCA when they were calling for boycotts of the World Cup football in Japan and South Korea because some official functions served dog meat. We eat chickens, we eat cows, why should the South Koreans not eat dogs because we keep them as pets and they do not.

If South Africa is to succeed as a country with true national unity, we have to respect the cultural identity of all of its peoples.