There’s a scene in the 1995 Jock of the Bushveld* film that has been seared into my memory. A messenger comes running up to the governor of the Cape and says, “News of Shaka, sir!” The governor then says, “What’s the bloody savage done now?”

When I first heard of the interdict against umkhosi wokweshwama that Animal Rights Africa brought against the King of the Zulu, that scene immediately leapt to mind. What have the bloody savages done now? A lot has been said about the actual act of killing the bull, there’s nothing more I can add to that aspect of the debate. What I reject with vehemence is the idea that cultural change can be forced on to a group via the courts. More to the point, I reject the idea that Animal Rights Africa, indeed anyone, can tell the Zulu how to practice their culture. In a country with a terrible history of indigenous culture suppression, I would have expected these activists to show more respect for cultures they have little understanding of. Some would have us believe that as long as a practice is perceived as being “wrong”, it should be stopped, cultural or not. When it comes to culture, where does one draw the line between what is wrong and what is acceptable? These people would have us apply what is essentially a subjective test to the matter. A question of opinion, in other words. If they had their way, it would boil down to their opinion of what right and wrong consists of. They would gladly impose their Eurocentric sensibilities onto African minds. Fortunately, they appealed to the courts to resolve the matter. The courts then applied an objective test to the matter at hand: the law of South Africa. The Constitution protects the right to enjoy cultural practices (Chapter 2, section 31), precisely because of South Africa’s history where indigenous cultures were suppressed. Judge van der Reyden satisfied himself that ukweshwama was a cultural practice, that the killing of the bull was a very necessary part of that practice and that banning act of bull-killing would render the ritual irrelevant.

Umkhosi wokweshwama was saved precisely because it is a cultural practice. In South Africa, culture is a big deal.

I’ve seen people equating ukweshwama with the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan. That is both laughable and very outrageous at the same time. There’s no denying that ukweshwama is an ancient practice, but it is not murder, nor is it a human rights abuse. You simply can’t equate it to what the Taliban is doing. Stop drumming up opposition to ukweshwama by likening it to human rights abuses! If you must draw an international parrallel, why not liken it to the Iberian bull-fighting custom?

It may be argued that culture can change, and that umkhosi wokweshwama must change because it has no place in the modern world. Fair enough, but the place to do that is not the courts. The only people who can decided whether a cultural practice should change or not are those actually practicing it. As long as that cultural practice is not illegal in any way, then the courts should have no say in the matter. That is basically how the High Court ruled on the matter of ukweshwama. My opinion is that ukweshwama (and bull-fighting as practiced in Spain) is a cruel practice and should be stopped. Despite the fact that I am Zulu, I don’t believe I’m in a position to demand that the practice be stopped, because I don’t do it. If that culture must be changed, then it must be done by those who practice it, and not by court interdicts obtained by sandal-wearers and grass eaters.South Africa is now a multi-cultural society, and we all have to practice cultural tolerance. Play nice with the other kids on the playground.[email protected]@SiphoH

*I believe this scene was in that particular movie. I couldn’t find a script on the internet to verify this.


  • Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously. [email protected]


Sipho Hlongwane

Sipho Hlongwane is a journalist and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He is an avid fan of jelly beans, Top Gear, Arsenal and thinks that South Africans tend to take themselves a little too seriously....

Leave a comment