Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
17 August 2009

Animal cruelty and ethical double standards

Don’t get me wrong: Like many other South Africans I love animals. Cats and dogs can be good pets (loving and loyal – especially around meal times), while a tender piece of steak (cut from the carcas of a dead calf and then lightly browned in a pan and served with mushrooms) can be extremely delicious.

Yet, I find it absurd that former North West agriculture MEC Jan Serfontein is facing nine charges under the Animal Protection Act. They stand accused of dumping tens of thousands of male chicks in an empty farm dam and leaving them to die every week, because they were “economically worthless”.

This move seems to me to reflect the extreme double standard our society have towards animals. We are allowed to murder animals, then cook and eat them, but it is a criminal offense to have sex with an animal or to mistreat an animal. Yet, on farms where animals are raised for consumption, such animals are often subjected to extremely cruel treatment. Let’s face it, its a good thing that a chicken is not a very bright animal because chickens are often treated appalingly in order to fatten them up quickly for slaughter or in order to extract the maximum amount of eggs from them.

Yet, the law does not seem to address this kind of cruelty. As long as the animal is mistreated with the aim of later slaughtering it and selling it as meat, everything is hunky dory. But as soon as one mistreats an animal not with the aim of later murderinga nd eating it, then it suddenly becomes animal cruelty.

I suspect the reason for this double standard has much to do with the fact that as a society we do not want to take ethical responsibility for the fact that we are generally not vegetarians and therefore like to eat meat. And as we do not have to see how animals are mistreated while being prepared for the table, we can happily coo about cute furry animals and we can get outraged by the mistreatment of pets or even chickens, goats and sheep, while buying our plastic wrapped dead animals at the supermarket.

Mr Serfontein’s mistake was that he decided for good commercial reasons that it was more profitable to kill the little chickens than to mistreat them for several weaks before slaughtering them and packaging them for sale in the Pick & Pay, where the same animal lovers who would be outraged by his actions would happily buy the dead chickens for their braai.

One solution is to criminalise the cruel treatment of all animals – even those we will eat later – or to prohibit humans from eating meat. But that will never happen because we love our meat almost as much as we love our alcohol. So we do the next best thing: we adopt animal cruelty laws that will be selectively enforced to make us feel better about ourselves without forcing us to make the difficult choices required to live an ethical life regarding animals.

It really does not make sense. It’s a bit like prosecuting Schabir Shaik for arms deal corruption, but then not to prosecute all the other crooks who benefited from the arms deal or paid the bribes to secure arms deal contracts. It demonstrates the inability of us humans to act consistently ethically.

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