This December saw a cleanup of Clifton Fourth Beach by a private security company. Clifton and the nearby suburbs are wealthy, upper class, predominantly white neighbourhoods on the coast of Cape Town. It is also an area which is of limited access to disadvantaged predominantly black and coloured South Africans living in impoverished communities on the other side of the mountain.
The cleanup of the beach was allegedly in response to a sexual assault crime that had occurred there and beachgoers were asked to leave. This included black beachgoers along with everyone else, and it wasn’t long until claims of racism were thrown into the mix too. In response, a group of black protesters gathered on the beach to slaughter a sheep to an ancestor in effort to cleanse “racist spirits” present there. Given that many South Africans are far more sensitive to the treatment of animals and animal rights, they opposed this. Fortunately, although there were a handful of verbal skirmishes between protesters and those protesting the protest nothing violent (other than killing a sheep) occurred.
It’s Much More Than Just a Sheep
Some have argued that the critical response to protesters slaughtering a sheep on the beach is unwarranted given the triviality of the killing of a single sheep. After all, factories and slaughter houses kill them for our consumption, so what’s the big deal about just one sheep? They also argue that those who oppose the slaughter of the sheep are hypocritical because they eat meat anyway. However, as I will show, this charge misses the point for my objections, and what follows are a handful of reasons why I believe we should oppose the killing of animals in public spaces.
We live in a country in which parts of our society are sensitive to treatment of non-human animals. Because of this it can be traumatic when one witnesses animal cruelty of any shape or form. Having to witness a terrified animal being manhandled only to then see its throat being cut in a public space will prove traumatic to many viewers. As a result, this should not be allowed if we take safeguarding the psychological wellbeing of those within our society seriously.
Normalizing Animal Cruelty
A further concern is that this superstitious ritual of animal cruelty committed in a public space seems to condone, if not make appropriate, acts of animal cruelty. If it is deemed okay to cut the throat of a sheep openly and unashamedly on a public beach then what cause for concern do those who really do abuse animals, often in the comfort of their own homes, have? A few months ago we sadly witnessed another act of animal cruelty when a local motorist deliberately sloughed over two goslings while crossing the road with their mother. We need to deter these acts of cruelty and having public displays of them will prove counterproductive to these efforts.
This act of animal cruelty was justified on theological grounds, namely, as a sacrifice to ancestors in effort to cleanse racist spirits from the area. This is offensive. It is offensive because it would seem to suggest that predominantly white areas are hives for racist spirits. Imagine if a contingent of white people went to a black township to slaughter a dog in the public park because of alleged violent rape spirits in the area (after all, rape and violence statistics are staggeringly high in many black townships). There would be an outcry and rightly so, but if its a group of blacks going to a predominantly white area it is somehow okay.
It Takes Our Attention Away From Real Acts of Racism
I feel that the response delegitimizes real acts of racism because blacks weren’t deliberately targeted in this beach removal. I do believe that the removal of all beachgoers should not have occurred because it is not lawful or in the rights of a private security company to do so. However, independent of whose to blame, I don’t believe that it was an act of racism, and to make as though it was is to cry foul. I therefore believe that it takes away attention from real acts of racism that blacks face in our society. I have a huge sensitivity to the feelings and experiences of my fellow black South Africans because of our nation’s sore history and its continuing struggles, but I also believe that blacks need to avoid an oversensitivity to crying racism and seeing racism when it isn’t present. However, I believe that should crying foul continue in this way the real cries of racism and racial injustices will continue to lose currency and value. Racism is a serious injustice, needs to be treated as such, and must not be devalued by false accusations and claims.
Slaughtering an animal in a public space is illegal and the protesters did not have permits granted for the slaughter. I believe that if an unlawful act such as this goes unpunished and unopposed then it sets a precedent for others. Remember, this involved carrying lethal weapons (used to slaughter the sheep) in a public space. The slaughter was also led by Chumani Maxwele, an individual known for physically assaulting women, anti-white racism, and causing public violence in his protests.
I believe that this event raises numerous questions in need of further discussion. These discussions would touch on issues of access to certain parts of the city which are difficult for some but easy for the privileged. It would also touch on black pain which is still very alive because of our history. It is also a discussion in terms of law and how the law should be applied in instances such as these.