Chicken wars, Animal Rights and Black Lives Matter


IF THE idea of a sudden influx of cheap chicken wings from the USA wasn’t enough to disturb South Africans, who up until now hadn’t given much thought to how our local chickens fare, then I guess the threat of arsenic in imported US chicken marks a turning point in environmentalism. The FDA admitted this week that 70% of U.S. Chickens contain cancer-causing arsenic.

The privileged amongst us have always been weary of what we eat, but seeing social media taking up the mantra of free range, grain-fed, “organic Chicken” in the aftermath of the announcement, it occurred to me that many of those posting about this issue, are amongst South Africa’s emerging black empowered middle-class, eager to link colonialism and the politics of food.

It was thus with some bemusement that I also witnessed the reactionary attacks on social media this week by Adam Haupt and Gillian Schutte et al, who seem to be of the opinion that an “Animal Lives Matter” poster put up at UCT was nothing less than a hidden agenda for white supremacists. (see my earlier criticism of this agenda-setting here)

“Keep your animal rights out of black rights” screamed Schutte.

So far as Haupt, who appears to be a “Professor at the Centre for Film and Media Studies“, was concerned, the innocuous phrase “Animal Rights Matter” was assuredly a ‘racist intertextual reference’, one that “denigrates black lives and presents the human and animal rights as mutually exclusive.”

Haupt went on to retort “in short, the poster is divisive in this context and provides a binary response to black students and staff’s attempts to address bigotry.”

I have no doubt that he would also say the exact same thing of a “Queer rights Matter” poster, or a “Women’s Rights Matter” pamphlet.

Both readings would be an unnecessary distortion and removal of context, and historically incorrect. For all the academic blather, (surely a case of cookie-cutter theory and hammer-head ideology), the criticism is undoubtedly misplaced and unfounded.

Environmentalism like queerdom, has a long history of co-existance with the struggle against racism and apartheid in this country. In ‘Do You have to be White to be Green’, an article written by Albie Sachs and published by Kagenna Press back in the 90s, Sachs answered the same question with an emphatic No.

As one of the persons responsible for linking apartheid and the environment, and having unleashed considerable criticism, of what was then, a movement dominated by persons classified as white, I can only concur with Sachs, and suggest that the movement has now come full circle. The renaming of the Wildlife Society of South Africa is a case in point, as is the inclusion of environmental rights in our Constitution.

Humans are an integral part of the environment, and thus issues such as water, housing, sanitation, exist alongside the Save the Rhino campaign.

As an aside, it wasn’t simply these linkages between apartheid and the environment that were important, (so far as the struggle against apartheid was concerned), it was also the linkages between apartheid and the animals in the environment.

Wildlife battling the apartheid regime was a new front in the struggle, as my articles published in the anti-apartheid weekly, South, demonstrate, and thus exposing General Magnus Malan’s trophy hunting expeditions attest — directing readers to pictures and images of ‘Bokkie and the War’, painted in the public’s mind, images one could never forget.

The bloody, ripped, lifeless, gemsbok, antelope, kudu and Mother Nature herself, killed in the name of the Botha, Malan and Vlok war machine made for effective propaganda. If the racist bigots couldn’t make an emotional connection with similar images emanating from the townships on a daily basis — in which human beings had been reduced to the status of mere objects — then exposing the continuum of pain that included wildlife, and the basis for our existence on Planet Earth, was surely a resounding success.

This is the kind of thing that often gets one thrown out of shareholder meetings — the sight of bloodied fur and animal rights demonstrators –all part of the emergence of the first phase of green consciousness, so crucial to any debate on patriarchy and capitalism, and which lead to the inclusion of Post-Brundland values in our constitution, alongside “ecological sustainable development” and the “right to adequate housing”

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