Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
23 January 2007

Holy Bull!

Here is a question for the next South African edition of Trivial Pursuit: When can one “infuriate” or “goad” an animal without exposing oneself to criminal sanction and a one year jail term?

No, THIS time the answer is not that one can do so as long as one happens to be an ex chief whip of the ruling party or some other high up in the ANC hierarchy. It so happens that all of us can infuriate or goad (or neglect or torture or terrify) animals as we wish – as long as the said animals are not living in captivity.

This, in any case, is what the Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962 says. The Act states that anyone who, amongst others, “overloads, overdrives, overrides, ill-treats, neglects, infuriates [I kid you not!], tortures or maims or cruelly beats, kicks, goads or terrifies any animal is guilty of a criminal offence”.

An animal is defined as:

any equine, bovine, sheep, goat, pig, fowl, ostrich, dog, cat, or other domestic animal or bird, or any wild animal, wild animal, wild bird or reptile which is in captivity or under control of any person.

Now the SPCA wants to use this act to have Mr Tony Yengeni prosecuted for cruelty towards the bull for the ritual stabbing of the bull before it was slaughtered and presumably eaten as part of a cleansing ceremony (although I would hope that, like lady Macbeth, Mr Yengeni is never going to feel completely cleansed again).

The poor bull must indeed have been quite infuriated after being stabbed by Mr Yengeni – of all people. Being stabbed by Mr Yengeni must almost have been as infuriating as being killed with your brothers and sisters at an abattoir and then put in little plastic packets and sold at the Checkers.

To my mind the SPCA’s move against Mr Yengeni is both laughable and culturally arrogant.

It is laughable because the relevant legislation is anachronistic in the extreme and reminds us all of the hypocritical way in which our society deals with animals. Just think:

  • The law allows us to kill and eat some (but not other) animals as long as the killing is done far away from prying eyes in abattoirs – all to keep in tact the fiction of humane slaughtering;
  • We can eat and kill animals but we cannot have sex with animals – ever;
  • We can torture and kill any animal – mice, say – as long as we do not keep the animals as pets; and
  • Many of us are horrified by the killing of seals, say, or furry little monkeys, but would not think twice before exterminating mosquitos or cockroaches.

As a matter of personal virtue one might say that it is better not kill an animal unless its absolutely necessary because the animal is infuriating you by, say, being as ugly as a cockroach. But to criminalise bad behaviour towards all animals in captivity while sanctioning the wholesale commercial slaughter of the same animals, seem very weird.

It is also culturally arrogant because the law encompasses a certain uptight, Calvinist view of how so called “civilized” people have to behave towards animals. It does not take into account the cultural attitudes of the vast majority of South Africans who may not be able to afford to have such sentimental and confusing views of (certain) animals.

Cleansing ceremonies involving the slaughter of cattle is a deeply rooted cultural practice – up there with the twirling of koeksisters and drinking oneself stupid and aggressive at a braai.

This law was adopted in 1962 by the apartheid Parliament as a attempt to impose certain so called Western standards on people living in cities. To now use such a law against individuals who are merely practicing their cultural traditions seem perverse.

Some regulation of the slaughtering of animals or even the treatment of animals held in captivity by humans, may be acceptable or even required, although given our warped attitudes towards different kinds of animals such regulation will always be anachronistic in some way or another.

Of course, one can also ask why this law has not been amended or repealed, more than 12 years after the advent of democracy? Some ANC types may well holler about the racists who are trying to use the law against fraudster Yengeni, acting as if the Parliament does not have the power to amend the law. But that is a story for another day.

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