By Thapelo Tselapedi
“Ethical blindness or a lynch mob?” was the question posed by the Mail & Guardian. Former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni is in the spotlight yet again. Yengeni, who faced the might of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), now encounters the rebuff of the SPCA, just weeks after his release from prison early this year.
The manner in which Yengeni performed a ceremonial slaughter to his ancestors after his release infuriated the animal rights community. Being a frontrunner in animal rights, the SPCA condemned the incident and launched an investigation into the matter. SPCA chief inspector Andries Venter said there were “humane ways to kill an animal which minimised the pain” and argued that the ritualistic killing could not be considered a humane manner of ending an animal’s life.
The Ministry of Arts and Culture objected to the complaint, upholding the constitutional rights of people to practise their customs, and asked that citizens understand that they live in a multicultural society. Malungelo Mamba, a second year sociology student commented on the issue by saying that “it’s not like they’re killing the animal for the sake of killing it, they’re killing it for sacrificial purposes”.
Though most students such as Bongani Nyoka would argue “our constitution demands that we respect each others rights without imposing our opinions,” the incident does not seem to be merely a case of cultural intolerance.
The event did not have completely negative consequences for the politician. One could say that it created the perfect opportunity for Yengeni to bolster his popularity after his stint in prison. As most South Africans perform some form of ritual inspired practice, the ceremony procured an occasion to boost Tony Yengeni’s credibility as a representative of the people.
The mission was made more successful by what columnist Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya described as the “SPCA’s knee-jerk reaction, inspired by a colonial desire to educate the brutish natives”. The SPCA worsened such sentiments over the matter as the organisation threatened criminal charges against Yengeni. The organisation gave the former ANC parliamentary chief whip a platform to bring in culture as a vehicle for popularity.
Tony Yengeni is not the first politician to call on culture when if appears that all could be lost in the political chessboard of popularity. It is not surprising that since his release the Yengeni has been seen attached to the hip of the country’s former deputy president. During his trial Jacob Zuma was quick to use what he claimed was a Zulu based value system to defend his actions. Zuma claimed that as a Zulu man, it would be offensive to reject a woman’s advances.
The violation and repression of ones cultural practices simply does not belong in a country that permits equal opportunity and upholds a constitutional democracy. As the political landscape of the country changes, and former liberation fighters such as Yengeni become politicians vying for public favour, the debate over culture has also intensified. One must question not only whether intolerance of other’s cultures is unconstitutional, but also whether it is right to use one’s culture as a political bargaining chip.