Nadia Sanger
Nadia Sanger

Love thy neighbour, love thy dog

By Nadia Sanger

The allegation of being “un-African” continues to be used in multiple ways by political leaders to delimit African identities under the guise of decolonisation. In news reports on President Zuma’s latest allegation against dog ownership and their treatment by black people, are a number of bizarre, and relatively normative, ideas of humans and other animals, and their relationship to each other in the new South Africa; a space that is in need of decolonisation. The discourse that loving and taking care of other animals is “un-African”, a white phenomenon that black people are trying to emulate, has a long history in South Africa. While much of this history has legitimacy (white South Africans who treat/ed their black domestic help as lesser subjects than their companion animals), this discourse has unfortunately, much to the detriment of the decolonising project, not really moved beyond Zuma’s latest remarks. What does it mean to be treated “better than” or “less than”? And who gets to decide the marker from which “better” and “less” are decided?

As an upholder of the South African Constitution, President Zuma, in this instance, is in fact doing exactly what is required of him. Our Constitution, on paper, is a fantastic reflection of human rights. What is missing from these paper rights, is a sense of responsibility on all those who are able to access these rights. Some humans, as we know, have more access to human rights than others. This access is mediated by race, gender, sexuality, and ability, among others.

How do dogs and cats, the most popular domestic animals, feature in this discourse of human rights? They don’t. They have no rights really that matter to their lives. What matters in human rights’ talk, throughout the world but in different forms, is how human beings are affected. Human beings’ rights must be protected at all costs. In popular talk, this must be the case, and is central to the decolonisation project. In less-than-popular talk, other animals deserve to be treated as subjects in their own right. Both these considerations are not mutually exclusive. They can be contemplated in one thought. But there needs to be a shift of gear in the kinds of questions we ask, and the ways in which we respond to them, about humans and other animals, and race, class and identity more broadly in the current South African context.

To be fair to our president’s comments, dogs and cats should not be bought. Unfortunately, this practice is indeed racialised, but middle-class and wealthy white South Africans are not solely the culprits here. Pit bulls, and other “thorough-bred” domestic dogs are bought by people of colour (mainly men) for breeding and fighting purposes across lower-income and working-class communities. A decolonisation project must entail an understanding that there are millions of undesired cats and dogs held in cages at the SPCA, PDSA, and many other animal shelters across South Africa, dependent on funding needed to feed and sterilise animals, the latter so as to curtail the birth of more undesired cats and dogs in our world that just cannot, and will not, be taken care of by human beings. The stupidity of breeding “thorough-bred” dogs, specifically, works against the building of a democracy that, at its premise, is built on “a better life for all”.

The bigger question is around how we think about other animals, and how this is constituted in the decolonisation project. An understanding of power is central to this question — how power works, who gets to use it, and who gets used by it. Domesticated animals, at a broad level, definitely have it better than cows and sheep and pigs and chicken and fish — those eaten by humans. The enslavement and torture of animals bred for slaughter for humans needs to be understood as part of the question on decolonisation. Surely we understand slavery in this democracy? We understand what it means to be enslaved; what it means when we use binaries (us and them) to control and disempower. And we should understand the consequences of this type of thinking. The reality with other animals — domesticated and bred for slaughter — is no different.

What should not happen, in response to President Zuma’s statement, is that white South Africans respond in defence of their animal-loving behaviour. What privileged white South Africans do need to defend is their lack of contribution to decolonisation in current South Africa, and how their choices and practices maintain and reinforce neo-colonisation. This is done in multiple forms: buying “pets” from stores, horse-racing, and buying animal flesh in supermarkets (free-range being the new-ish fad, which helps quell guilt) and other practices which keep animal cruelty, and the use of other animals as instruments, in place. Privileged white South Africans, in a sense, need to work towards becoming “un-white”; to self-reflect and consider how they use inherited privilege to make choices that continue to benefit themselves by using whiteness as a passport. “Newly” middle-class black South Africans need to consider how the same thinking and action is not a human right being accessed and celebrated, but intensely undesirable behaviour, that leaves unquestioned privilege and power within the process of decolonisation. My feeling is that this is what President Zuma was getting at.

How do we understand love and care in the nation building, decolonisation project? Who gets to be loved, and how, who gets to be cared for, and whose life gets to be grieved? How different is this from apartheid discourse? The “animals get treated better than humans” accusation by those who call themselves “Africanist”, and those who call themselves “intellectuals” must be seriously thought through and deconstructed. Who gets to live, and cared for and grieved, cannot only be constituted within the realm of human beings. Because in this world are animal others who live, love, and grieve. In this world, are others who found themselves here, and live according to the rules of human beings. Again, this echoes colonial and apartheid logic and needs to be linked to how we understand discrimination, othering, and violence in the country and world we live in.

So when President Zuma, and other political leaders, make all sorts of comments that reify difference in ways that are not useful to a decolonisation project, they need to be held to account, and be shamed. Their short-sightedness and inability to understand and articulate decolonisation as a process that requires critical thinking, does not move us to freedom. It keeps us imprisoned, and in fact, moves toward further enslavement. Being cruel and harmful to others and ourselves, is not, to my mind, African at all. It is not the African I want to be.

Nadia Sanger works as a researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council. She writes in her own capacity.

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    • Rationality

      Why the “holier-than -thou” attitudes that abound on these fora?

      I know for sure that whites have also been asked to leave public spaces for breastfeeding – I was one of them, so I can quite believe that it still happens – but not only to black women.

      Just as blacks have been killed in cold blood by whites (eg, die Wit Wolf,” Apartheid Police) so whites have been killed in cold blood by blacks (e.g the farm murders and Bophutatswana murders). There is ongoing black on black agression (Bokassa, Amin and the hutu/tutsi geneocides are more recent examples). White on white violence/war is also commonplace – ask any Jew or Russian,for example. Ditto for Asia and the Middle East – eg the Kurds? Tianamin Square?

      Our species is largely motivated by greed and power and those who are best placed to exploit and practice that power at any given time will do so irrespective of their colour. Someone on this Forum said quite correctly that this is exacerbated when it becomes intertwined with culture and religion, which is used as a justifier for atrociticies.

      We South Africans are actually very boringly normal and unimportant by global standards and comparisons. Our isolation and insularity resulting from our apartheid history has caused us to have naive and unrealistic expectations of one another, and our country.We need to take in the world about us and contextualise ourselves more realistically. Perhaps then we will be able to debate in a more rational manner

    • Momma Cyndi

      ntozakhona #

      Congratulations on your your diploma in Food Science and Agriculture. I am not sure which university you went to but you certainly didn’t study under Prof Taylor.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Every vegetable, fruit or herb has health giving properties: lemon is a natural antiseptic, garlic a natural antibiotic, and parley has more vitamins and minerals than morogo or spinach and more vitamin C than oranges or tomatoes.

      But a useful tip for cooks and mothers is that bean sprouts, from any beans, have 3 times the minerals and vitamins than the adult vegetable, like eggs have all the nutrients – both sprouts and eggs are embryo plants/animals and have all the nutrients.

    • ntozakhona

      Momma Cyndi

      I said I did not study that, why kill a dead snake? One thing for sure your professor will feel aggrieved that your ascribing to him false expertise on the Setswana language.

      In academia there is a thing called integrity.

    • ntozakhona


      Do you think that your assertion that people other than Africans breastfeed in public spaces is even worth responding to? I sure those also slaughter goats in ceremonies marking manhood. Ha,ha,ha,ha very funny.

    • ntozakhona

      So you obtained your diploma from a university, you must be young to call yourself Momma. Diplomas were previously obtained at tecnikons, ask us abobaba who had been to Wits University and the University of Cape Town. Sis Cyndi.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      To continue with the “bean sprouts” theme – beans, potatoes, tomatoes, mielies/sweetcorn all come from the Americas. Europe and the rest of the world had none of those things before the Voyages of Discovery. The only bean that Europe had in the Middle Ages was the Broad Bean, which produces a lot of pod and plant for few beans, and is no longer a commercial plant of significance.

      Fruit mainly came from the East and Middle East – and arrived in Europe much earlier through the Trade Routes of the Roman Empire and Chinese Silk Road.It was because the Arab Empire had blocked off these trade routes and Europe could no longer get spices that the Voyages of Discovery started – to find a route East to get spices.

      Now days people take all this diversity of food for granted – but for most of history humans had very limited food choices, and every new food was a miracle of discovery. Strawberries never developed the size and flavour they have now, for example, until an American and European species could be interbred and hybridised.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Which is also why the Black American Kwanzaa Cult Myth of a First Fruits Festival and a Killing The Bull Ceremony is such a farce.

      Sub Saharan Africa had hardly any fruits and vegetables – the people lived off wild game; and cows are not indigeneous to Africa but were obtained from Indian traders, and, anyhow, Blacks only kept one Bull in every herd/kraal, and killed the rest of the bullocks young so as not to have bulls fighting.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Another food tip for housewives/businesswomen is that if you have to entertain a diverse group of people – fish is automatically both Kosher and Halaal, and can be served to both Muslims and Jews. When I had to organise an office function, whether buffet or finger foods, I always made sure there was a plentiful supply of fish dishes.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      A good choice at a cocktail party for vegetarians is vegetarian samoosas, and vegetarian spring rolls with a soya sauce dip. Vegetarians get bored with crudites and dips.

    • Charlotte

      @ ntozakhona . I did NOT say ‘we are all: I said ‘We’ That means me and millions of people (black, white, coloured, Indian, as well as many members of the ANC. It includes cartoonist Zapiro and black artist, Ayanda Mabulu, who also painted Zuma with his genitals exposed – as well as many other prominent and respected people.

      Nor am I a ‘Beneficiary of Apartheid’ (think of something original!) In fact, you do not know anything about me – my race, my background, my difficulties – or about the millions of people about which you generalise. I am also not ‘recalcitrant’.

      And you are wrong again : 3/4 of the population is NOT representative of some 2 or 3 thousand delegates kissing up the ANC for their positions on the gravy train. It is they who voted for this travesty of a president – not the whole population.

      ANC voters are duped into voting for the party out of loyalty to an ANC that used to be. Grants are given to the poor to maintain them as voting fodder.
      However, they too will eventually wake up to the fact that the ‘fortunes’ which are radically improving in this country are those of ANC nouveau riche politicians.
      Young, educated black people now want honesty, responsibility and accountability from a government .


    • ntozakhona


      Deny it as much as you like, you are an apartheid beneficiary. The tone of your contributions, your style and robotic responses are tell tales. Ga o motho o moncho!

      Read your intial post and if you yave recanted, simply say so, why the dishonesty?

      Is it English – your mother tongue- or is it ingrained dishonesty? I had written that the 75% support the ANC received at the ANC 53rd National Conference is likely to be endorsed by the majority of the population at the next general election.