Johannesburg - Tradition should not be used as an excuse for cruelty, the author of Animal Rights in South Africa said on Friday of the controversial slaughter of a bull by fraud convict Tony Yengeni following his release from prison.
"Cannibalism, infanticide, female circumcision, slavery, suppression of women, exploitation of children, ritual slaughter, bull fighting, bear baiting, fox hunting... are among so-called 'cultural traditions' practised by some groups - the loss of which should not be mourned," said Michele Pickover, author and curator at the University of the Witwatersrand's William Cullen Library.
Pickover was responding to Yengeni's spearing of a bull before slaughtering it during a cleansing ritual which culminated in a heated debate about issues relating to culture and cultural liberty as well as preventing cruelty to animals.
Pickover said animal activists could be branded as "hypocritical" and accusations of them being "racist, ignorant and lacking respect for African culture" may "hold some water".
"This is because animal activists make allowances for industrial animal production and 'factory farming' which turn living beings into food production machines (where keeping violence toward animals out of sight deceptively serves to legitimize animal suffering)," she said.
But the argument went a lot deeper. It "revolves around notions of socially constructed identities, authenticity, modernity and power", she said.
The argument was really about dominant social arrangements which gave rise to oppression and devalued both humans and animals alike, Pickover urged.
"There is an inextricable link between our treatment and slaughter of animals and our treatment and slaughter of other human beings," she said.
"There is an epidemic of violence against other animals and as individuals and a society, degrading practices and exploitative traditions need to be challenged."
Concern for humans and concern for animals were very similar, said Pickover, and these concerns were framed in terms of social justice and rights discourse. They did not take place in a social and economic vacuum or on the margins of political ideology.
"What we need is inclusive justice where the interests of the enormous array of animal and human beings will be considered... Other species are sentient beings, which have their own intrinsic value and are not mere commodities or 'resources' for humans to exploit," she said.