No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

My written submission objecting to the proposed plan to put into effect the first stages of a plan to build approximately eight nuclear power stations for South Africa

I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above.
History has shown that:

  • nuclear is hazardous: despite the rosy picture painted by individual apologists for nuclear, and denials and reassurances from corporate and other vested interests, nuclear is not safe (reference: see 1 below)
  • nuclear is unaffordable: extrapolations based on the doubling of the projected costs of constructing the Medupi and Kusile coal power plants translate into a price-tag for the nuclear build programme of between one and two trillion rand, which is unaffordable, reckless and – given poverty and related challenges facing South Africa – criminally profligate (see 2 below)
  • nuclear is inappropriate: extrapolations based, inter alia, on the trebling of the projected time it took to construct the Medupi and Kusile coal power plants (see 2 and 3 below) translate into power becoming available only in 10 to 20 years, by which time, given that solar panels (also in informal settlements) are increasingly ubiquitous, given that energy-saving solutions are now standard building requirements, and given the rapid improvements in green technologies, mean that once nuclear power is finally generated it will no longer be required. This is already happening in the US (see 4 below). Hence a charge of wasteful expenditure
  • nuclear procurement is open to corruption: past and current financial scandals, coupled with the opaque and secretive nature of the recent nuclear procurement process do much to promote cynicism, distrust and anger (see 5 & 6 below)

Therefore I wish to register my objection to and rejection of the proposed nuclear build programme.

Hendrik Jeremy Mentz (20160829)

  1. Nuclear power plant accidents: listed and ranked since 1952 (The Guardian)
  2. Why South Africa should not build eight new nuclear power stations (M&G)
  3. “Urgent” nuclear power? This is how long it takes to build a reactor (htxt:africa)
  4. On rooftops, a rival for utilities (NYT)
  5. DoE claims nuke procurement details classified (M&G)
  6. Key details of SA’s nuclear procurement plan kept under wraps (BDLive)


I manage a small agroecology farming operation in Suurbraak on behalf of my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law (Sasha). On my return Japie Present reported that when he had tried to secure the ducks and chickens for the night he wasn’t able to find the fourth duck.

I didn’t give it too much thought as I was reasonably sure that number four would pitch the following morning.

Number four didn’t return. Instead I noted that father duck was in a depression, so it must have been his partner who was missing. That night I picked and placed him in the shelter. He made no resistance.

The following morning father duck was sitting in their drinking basin, which I carefully pulled out of the enclosure without him making any attempt to flee or resist.

For the rest of the day he sat on the edge of the pond totally catatonic.

He wasn’t around for the evening feed and after a search I found him dead at the side of the pond. He must have drowned from grief as his beak was under the surface of the water.

I have no idea what happened to his partner. Matt suggests she might still return (‘Sad times, h, delicate balance, she might return’) but the implications are frightening. I feel loss, a sense of unease and deep concern about – I don’t know what. Are we, as humans, missing something?

Matt explained in an email how he saw the situation: ‘There’s an “over-soul”, which is damaged when a breeding pair terminates, this helps understand the larger unease’.

I traced the term the Over-Soul to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay of the same name:

We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul

If Emerson is right and we, Homo sapiens, are part of a whole, then what harm aren’t we doing to that whole and to ourselves through our CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), genetic engineering, and our use of herbicides and pesticides?

And in the age of Tinder, what doesn’t this incident say about the quality of our own relationships?

Seven black wattles

Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savour the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, savouring must come first (E.B. White)

“But Louis,” I remonstrated, “Look behind you. There’s a forest of black wattles.”

“Well I have pulled out seven of them.”

Louis de Villiers uprooting 1 of 7-black wattles
Louis de Villiers uprooting one of seven black wattles

Louis and I were tending a small herd of goats alongside the Caledon River, which joins the Buffeljags to flow past the former mission village of Zuurbraak, Suurbraak or its original Attaqua Khoikhoi name !Xairu  meaning ‘A place called Paradise‘ in the Overberg region of the Western Cape Province in South Africa.

Gaunt, testy – but with a twinkle in his eye signalling a heart of gold, my good friend, Louis de Villiers, is an inveterate kampvegter (champion) for the environment. He therefore walks the talk, which is why he was tugging away at a black wattle while all I wanted to do was enjoy the evening watching the goats graze.

In South Africa, the black wattle tree (Acacia mearnsii) is classified as an invader, which ‘competes with and replaces indigenous grassland and riverine species … (thus reducing) the grazing area for domestic and wild animals.’ (Invasive Species South Africa).

The forest of black wattle in question was growing on the lower slopes of the Langeberge and was now also invading one of the few remaining thickets of original vegetation that, inter alia, included  Kaapse boekenhout and wild almond which, incidentally, was sustaining our goats. Chastened by Louis’ example I undertook to do the same. However, I am ashamed to confess that since that day, I failed to uproot one single black wattle.

That event took place on 27 July 2015. Almost a month later on the 17 August I received a visit from Gari whose plot adjoins the stretch where Louis uprooted his 7 black wattles. Gari shared his concern that not only black wattle but the goats were destroying the natural vegetation alongside the river, which he informed me he was planning to conserve as a retreat for anyone wishing to relax there. Part of his plan was to rid the area of black wattle. The second part of his plan was for the area no longer to be used for grazing, and would I mind?

Tragedy of the commons

Matt and Sasha (my son and daughter-in-law) and the other livestock farmers of Suurbraak grazed their goats, cattle and horses on that same stretch of commonage years before Gari and others moved onto their plots. Sharing the commons is also a large troop of baboons, which periodically come down from the mountain. Consequently there is huge pressure on whatever land remains – exacerbated by plant invaders (black wattle, blue gum, hakea, and pine).

Clearly the stage is set for the tragedy of the commons. What’s to do, particularly as there is clearly a need to conserve what little is left?

As I see it, Louis has demonstrated the solution: seven black wattles: ‘The challenge,’ Louis explains, ‘Is to find the balance between our way of doing and living, while recognising and respecting the delicate balances in nature in which we are interfering.’

Had I, therefore, as intended, followed Louis’ example set on the 27 July 2015, there would have been 224 fewer black wattles. But I had done nothing. So If I needed grazing for the goats, while valuing biodiversity and beauty I realised I must stop pretending all is well with the commons and I must do something to conserve what is precious.

My commitment, therefore, is that whenever and wherever I graze the goats –including that stretch – I would pay my dues by pulling out the equivalent of seven black wattles. Yesterday I started working on my backlog and uprooted 60 black wattles. Added to Louis’ seven, equals 67 fewer black wattles. Tonight, at least seven more.

Combating black wattle aliens
Combating plant invaders along the Buffeljagsrivier flowing past Suurbraak

Acknowledgement: Louis shared the quote above by E.B. White, which he says sums up his dilemma.

Afterword: While visiting, Louis also took out a grove of hakea, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post: a how-to get rid of hakea.

Malthusian juncture in the history of our planet

Kavin Senapathy in Forbes Magazine: Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless. My reply (edited):

Ms Senapathy … I wonder whether you have listened to ‘The Monsanto Years’ appropriately. In other words, not only in your head.

Surely art’s role is to enable a deeper understanding of the way things are, by going to and articulating the heart of things, as Neil Young’s ‘The Monsanto Years’ album does, by pointing out the danger inherent in commoditizing and corporatizing every facet of life, which, with respect to nature, is being driven by giant multinational biotech/agricultural corporations (Big Ag), symbolised by Monsanto. Surely you too experience a sense of unease when considering the farming practises promoted by Big Ag: GMOs/herbicides/chemical fertilisers/pesticides/mono-cropping, which Neil Young believes ‘thoughtlessly plunder’ the earth (Wolf Moon).

It is against this truth that you might need to weigh the import of your boldly unambiguous title ‘Note To Neil Young: Monsanto Isn’t Evil, And GMOs Are Harmless’. Because not you, Ms Senapathy, or any of your readers know where this will end – think, for instance, gene drives.

Maybe at this Malthusian juncture in the history of our species and our planet, we all require humility. Maybe we also need to heed Neil Young’s ominous warning: ‘You never know what the future holds in the shallow soil of Monsanto, Monsanto’ (Monsanto Years).

The featured image above was shot early morning in a field in Suurbraak, which was to be sprayed with Roundup or 2,4-Dinitrophenol herbicide. Thankfully the farmers agreed not to poison the soil. Thus the Suurbraak poison-free initiative was born.

I share this follow-up from Glenn Ashton, who also kindly provided the above link to gene drives:

Is Neil Young rehashing myths about Monsanto?

In a post to his LinkedIn account, entitled: Neil Young: We’re More Like You than You Think, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Robb Fraley, says of Neil Young’s The Monsanto Years album: ‘If you listen to the new album, you’ll hear a rehash of many of the myths we’ve long heard about our company’.

I listened to the album to try to discover what myths Fraley claims Neil Young is rehashing. Are these perhaps they?

If you click on the indented text below each ‘myth’, you will be taken to the song’s lyrics (sourced from AZLyrics) and if you click on the title in brackets, you will be taken to a video or to a streamed audio of the track in question.

  • Monsanto hasn’t sued farmers?

We’re from Monsanto we own the seeds || (Workin’ Man)

  • Monsanto hasn’t played a part in the Grocery Manufacturers of America’s putsch to block the state of Vermont from passing their law requiring GMO foods to be labelled?

When the people of Vermont wanted to label food with GMOs
So that they could find out what was in what the farmer grows
Monsanto and Starbucks through the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance
They sued the state of Vermont to overturn the people’s will
 || (A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop)

  • Monsanto hasn’t corporatized nature?

Seeds have floated, birds have flown
Seeds have travelled far from home
Seeds are life it can’t be owned
Not even by Monsanto
 || (Rules Of Change)

  • By corporatizing nature Monsanto hasn’t highjacked farmers’ rights to re-use seeds, as farmers have done for generations?

Every year he buys the patented seeds
Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto
 || (Monsanto Years)

  • Farming practices advocated by big multinational biotech/agricultural corporations (Big Ag) like Monsanto (GMOs/herbicides/chemical fertilisers/pesticides/mono-cropping) haven’t plundered the soil?

Wolf moon thank you for risin’
Big sky I’m grateful for your parting clouds
Seeds of life your glowing fields of wheat
Windy fields of barley at your feet
While you endure the thoughtless plundering
 || (Wolf Moon)

  • Farming practices advocated by Big Ag haven’t displaced indigenous people, small-scale farmers and/or farm workers?

It’s a bad day to do nothin’
With so many people needin’ our help
To keep their lands away from the greedy
Who only plunder for themselves
 || (A New Day For Love).

  • Ordinary people don’t need to take back the power ceded to corporations?

How can we regain our freedom
Lost by our own laws we must abide
When will we take back our freedom
To choose the way we live and die
 || (Big Box)

After following the links above do you agree with Robb Fraley’s criticism that Neil Young is rehashing many of the myths we’ve long heard about Monsanto? Either way, please add your perspective to the comment section below.

Finally, this is vintage Neil Young: raw, melodious, passionate, angry, driving, understated, and compassionate. All the tracks work. On a personal note it’s a relief to discover that the sixties protest tradition still lives. So do yourself a favour: buy the album, which comes with an immediate download, so you can enjoy the album in advance of the CD arriving in the post. By the way, Neil Young’s backing group The Promise of the Real is a worthy complement

Acknowledgement: This is an edited version of my reply to Fraley’s LinkedIn post.

Image: Heirloom Red Inca maize/corn/mealie

Factory farming

You should be prepared to pay up to twice the going price for the cheese I make from Daisy’s milk so that it’s not necessary for me to be cruel to her – or go without,

Factory farming is farming that has moved from the land to the factory/barn/cage/sow stall (Free Ranger)

Some days ago, I participated in a conversation on Twitter about factory farming between Free Ranger, GrassConsumerAction and The Farmer’s Weekly; which I afterwards shared with Patsy when she delivered a basket of organic vegetables from her garden, and who also asked what factory farming is? I repeated Free Ranger’s definition quoted above

“But that’s what my brother used to do, with chickens. He says how else can we feed everybody?”

And this was my reply to Patsy hopefully, this time round, without ranting.

Where are funders putting the big money? Into resources: water, land and food. Why? Because they are finite and when we run out the prices will rise. At the moment food is incredibly cheap. Why? Because, like fracking, we are exploiting every single avenue, which, in the case of food, includes factory farming, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and GM seeds all of which are wreaking havoc on the animal kingdom, our oceans, the soil, insects and seeds – much of which has falling under the control of mega corporations whose purpose in the name of feeding the multitudes is power and ROI.

I, as a small, off-grid farmer, do not recoup my costs – let alone make a living selling milk and cheese at the going rate. So must I, like Patsy’s brother and countless others, become more ‘efficient’, by increasing my herd and stuffing them into smaller and smaller cubicles where they are fed ‘scientific’ gruel from offal?

Senseless kindness

No. We cannot allow this madness to continue for the sake of the few at the expense of the planet. Animals shouldn’t have to suffer so that we can eat cheap pies. Like Free Ranger and @GrassConsumerAction  we have to ask the difficult questions. This means that you should be prepared to pay up to twice the going price for the cheese I make from Daisy’s milk so that it’s not necessary for me to be cruel to her, Kashka and the others– or go without, because, as Vasily Grossman sees it:

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. | Grossman, V. (2011:394) Life and Fate. Vintage. London.

In the end, therefore, it’s not about science, logic, efficiencies, profit, or power, it’s about what Grossman calls ‘senseless kindness’, otherwise we’re lost, and the planet with us.

Why I shall continue eating meat

My intention is to clarifying for myself why I eat meat.

The question was shaped by a discussion I had via Twitter with Jo Lister,  BentoGrassConsumerAction,  Free Ranger and @EGalgut (account closed and apparently subsumed into Bento), and via  The Daily Pitchfork with James McWilliams, Janet Schultz and Charlie Talbert.

The vegan position as I understand it

Jo Lister and Bento, both vegans, believe that because humans as a species know right from wrong, we have a moral obligation not to inflict suffering on animals because, like us, animals are sentient. Consequently, they refuse to participate in any exploitation of animals be it by eating meat, wearing animal products or using animals for entertainment in zoos and circuses. Humans who do mistreat animals are, as James McWilliams observes, guilty of speciesism. Bento and McWilliams reject as illogical the argument that eating meat is natural by invoking the naturalistic fallacy. A call to veganism is compellingly and movingly articulated in the movie Earthlings.

GrassConsumerAction & Free Ranger are non-vegan activists promoting ethical farming practices.

I am wary of bringing morals into the question

I don’t know about you, but I have a kneejerk reaction to anyone telling me that for moral reasons I should not eat meat. It’s not just that I’m obstinate. It’s that I’m suspicious of anyone playing the moral card, because in my view any injunction, rule, practice or belief that is at heart an ‘ought’ instead of an ‘is’ doesn’t gel with me, as being too easy, pat and/or empty. To be anything other than who I am, cuts me off from my true nature which, let’s face it, is seldom if ever moral, let alone compassionate. Instead, I believe it is necessary to enter and live what is real. By ‘real’ I include my shadow, suppressed self. It also requires me to open myself to what is on the other side of my thought bubble. This means participating in a world which is immediate, fluid, complex, fraught, and with no easy answers. (I expand on this position in, Enter).

For me, the speciesism argument is patronising and coercive

Speciesism is what happens when one species (human) assumes for itself power over another (animal) thus resulting in exploitation. It’s a thought-provoking take on what is happening on earth. Nevertheless I am concerned and suspicious when – like with many –isms: speciesism starts being used as a stick to beat others as in: ‘There’s a lot of confusing unique behaviors and speciesism in this comment thread.’ (McWilliams). This bears out my sense that –isms polarise and stratify into us (the enlightened) and them (the speciesists), and in the process demand specific behaviours which, ironically, are subtly demeaning. For instance speciesism assumes human-animal interaction in terms of omnipotence and powerlessness, which then legislates specific human behaviours such as compassion, whereas in my experience the interaction between human and animal seldom operates within such narrow confines. In fact I have been in awe when in the presence of animals and at other times, comforted. I have felt loved. I have learnt to show respect. I have shared with animals and have received two, three, four-fold in return. I have experienced intimacy. And I have felt afraid. This is why Janet Shultz’s sense of ‘coexistent presence’ speaks to me so powerfully, by re-defining the relationship in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

I concede that my stated reason for eating meat was illogical (naturalistic fallacy)

When I justified eating meat ‘… because it is natural’:

Bento corrected me for being illogical, by invoking the naturalistic fallacy.

I had never before encountered the naturalistic fallacy until Bento mentioned it. McWilliams further elucidated the concept for me in his post, When It Comes To The Morality Of Meat, Nature Is No Guide’. As I understand the naturalistic fallacy, I cannot claim something is good on the strength that it happens in nature, for example claiming that humping in public is acceptable because animals do it. So if it’s illogical to say I eat meat because it is natural, and as my decision to eat meat results in alarm, fear, pain and/or grief for a member of another species why do I eat meat? Otherwise, Jo Lister’s observation to me holds:

Why I eat meat (hopefully, without resorting to the naturalistic fallacy)

It’s a long story. My mother turned to nature cure in my 14th year. Since then for much of my long life I have been vegetarian. Now occasionally I eat meat. The reason I now eat meat is because during my years as a vegetarian I felt much like the walking dead or catatonic. I lacked vitality. I was light-headed. I bordered on being perniciously anaemic. Therefore, I resorted to drinking pots of Keemun tea and, later in my life, double espressos and chocolate, all of which, because it was caffeine-induced, provided a false energy.

Now when I eat a small portion of meat my body immediately says thank you, I feel grounded and connected, and I have the strength to carry on. This dramatic contrast tells me that I had been vegetarian (and I’m not even talking veganism!) at the expense of my health.

There’s another reason. I manage a small agroecology farm in Suurbraak, South Africa on behalf of Matt (my son) and Sasha (my daughter-in-law). The farm is situated between mountain and a perennial river and bordered by wilderness. Because I do not see myself as separate from my context, I cannot avoid – nor do I wish to avoid, taking my cue from nature. Here my lived reality is an ecology in which life (baboon, rooikat or lynx, buck, otter, water mongoose, porcupine, horse, goat, cow, mouse, snake, owl, ibis, frog, wasp, spider, scorpion) is forever attacking or protecting turf in an attempt to stay alive for as long as possible in order to procreate. In what way am I so different? That I’m moral?

But I am also trapped in another context, human. I said ‘trapped’ because humans increasingly live almost entirely in their heads as if what is beyond their thought bubbles doesn’t exist, thus leading lifestyles that cause incalculable harm to the fabric of the whole of which humans form part. Take, for instance: CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), fracking and nuclear waste. Therefore I believe you and I should find ways to re-connect with what is beyond thought. This includes not only connecting with wilderness but also our feelings, and the past, which we often try to fudge or forget. One way to connect with wilderness, the past and/or our feelings is to take absolute responsibility for every decision I make, including slaughtering for food.

It follows therefore that slaughtering must be personal. By personal I mean that I live my involvement in or my responsible for this animal’s death. And to make it personal I too must be prepared to slaughter at least once in my life so that I experience first-hand what is entailed for the animal and the person doing the slaughtering (see my post Eating Meat).

If this is not possible then the act of buying, preparing and eating meat must happen in full consciousness, relatively speaking, in so doing acknowledging the death of the animal I am eating.

I believe my responsibility also extends to ensuring that the animal I’m eating led a natural life as in free-range, grass-fed, horned and suckled. This will of necessity push up the price of meat. That is as it should be, see: ‘Our responsibility towards the animals I farm’. This requires that I check the label before buying my meat. But because labels also lie or fudge the truth (See James McWilliams’ article in Harpers: Nature’s perfect package, Labeling our way to a clear conscience (paywall)) we need food activists such as GrassConsumerAction and Free Ranger to help us hold retailers accountable.

Ideally the animal I eat should have been slaughtered with the minimum of trauma. Unless I am a farmer or know a farmer who slaughters and whom I can trust, the killing side in modern society will remain problematic. As one farmer put it – reported, I think, in ‘National Geographic’: ‘My animals lead a good life with one bad day’. This I must accept.

My beef with vegans for being pie in the sky

I didn’t set out to be confrontational as I have the utmost respect for the manner in which vegans live their beliefs. But at the same time vegans, like meat-eaters, should be answerable.

If vegans had their way, the question then follows: would we have farm animals? And if the answer is no then surely their noble quest to prevent the slaughtering of farm animals would mean that they wouldn’t have been born in the first place, thus depriving them of life.

In addition to food, the animals we farm help build quality soil via their droppings. My sense is that without farm animals we would be another step closer to ceding control to the fertiliser, herbicide, GM corporations to create an artificial environment, which they then control.  Apropos, is this TED address by Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change.

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Thirdly, on the question of epistemology: it appears that vegans assume a dualistic world comprising 2 discrete contexts/realities/worlds but equal – to avoid speciesism: wilderness and human. If so we have the classical dilemma of explaining how these two worlds interact without falling into what Gilbert Ryle called a category error, which in this case might be the anthropocentric assumption that compassion and abstinence from killing are more appropriate than, for instance, contentment from being nourished.

Fourthly, is the naïve, lopsided belief that given the right circumstances, tools and/or attitudes we should and could rid the world of pain – without realising that it is often through pain, terror, grief (all the supposed negatives) that we connect with life.

In conclusion

Matt, my son, who reviewed the first draft, pointed out that I might run into problems having promoted an argument based on anti-thought and pro-feeling, and then tackling vegans at the end in a very logical fashion thus not identifying the complexity and feeling of living the vegan way. This, I concede is a valid criticism. To Matt’s critique I add that of my friend and co-reviewer, Louis de Villiers, who observed that everyone has to decide for him or herself.

So let me conclude by saying that I was a vegetarian for years at the expense of my health. Now I eat meat at the expense of my peace of mind. I believe that’s what it comes down to, namely, a decision on which alternative to sacrifice.

Our responsibility towards the animals we farm

The message I glean from our goats: is it necessary also to disrespect us?

Early morning I looked at Daisy (matriarch of a herd of 4 adult and 6 baby goats) standing at the entrance to the enclosure, and asked her please to let Kashka through, whose turn it was to be milked. Daisy stepped aside, and Kashka slipped in.

Surprised, I gratefully responded, “Thank you mama. Thank you.”

Daisy looked back at me with those clear, yellow glass eyes of hers and flashed, “No problem”, turned aside to meditate in the sun.


It’s been 6 exasperating months during which I have tried to deal with Daisy’s ongoing bitchiness towards the entire herd – particularly towards Kashka, until about 3 weeks ago I read somewhere an author lamenting that we no longer groom one another. A week or so later Matt, whose farm, with Sasha I’m looking after in their absence, commented: “Look at Billy’s beard. Do you polish it?” And I laughed, but then the word ‘groom’ popped back into my mind.

One or two mornings later I thought that now the tick season has passed and I have more time on my hands between milking each goat, why not rub each one down?

I started with Daisy. I scratched behind and around her horns and then worked my way down and up her spine and flanks. The moment my nails dug firmly into her hair, she stopped munching her oats and barley and stood quietly – as if in a trance. Then I used my palms to smooth her hair. After I had finished, Daisy resumed feeding. A while later I lowered the stable barrier and the grande dame of goats slow-marched down to join the herd, as if saying, “Respect! What took you so long?”

I now groom every goat daily – even Billy. The herd glistens in the Overberg sun.

Maybe it’s because I live alone but I’ve also taken to talking to them. Not in goat language – but in English, adult to adult. For instance, today I told Daisy she mustn’t try to slip back to feed from the kids’ lucerne once I’ve indicated it’s over. She looked at me with those clear yellow eyes of hers. OK.

Last night when I untethered Daisy after feeding time, she didn’t immediately push aside Pegasus to get to what was left of her lucerne, instead she continued lying on the fresh straw, chewing the cud sleepily.

The message I glean from the goats: we share our milk, we accept that in the great scheme of things you’ll take and slaughter our kids, therefore is it necessary also to disrespect us?

On Eating Meat

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

I am looking after my son and daughter-in-law’s small, off-grid farming operation in Suurbraak. Since taking over the operation, their 3 mother goats have each given birth to 2 kids. The other day Sasha (my daughter-in-law) returned for a few days. On one of these she slaughtered one of the male kids.

Some years earlier, Matt (my son) woke me in my tent, pitched on their then, newly purchased Suurbraak plot with the question, “Dad, whose turn is it to slaughter the goose?”

I did the deed as I realised that it was hypocritical of me to share their meals without playing my part. Ever since I have been glad I accepted Matt’s challenge, because it meant I had paid my dues with respect to eating meat. Additionally it confirmed for me that, done properly, animals accept their death in a way that we also need to do.

How I did it was to catch the bird, carry it in my arms to the fence nearest the river where I told it what I intended to do. Initially the bird protested but afterwards it grew quiet and the trees, river, mountain, bird and I merged. I then knew it was time. Sasha held the bird’s neck on top of the chopping block where it lay without moving until — several attempts later — I severed the head with an axe.

I was moved and humbled as my actions had been true to my philosophy, which is not to shy away but to enter every situation which presents itself. Based on my most recent experience, however, I now realise that that event, although epiphanic at the time, was betrayed the moment I dishonoured it by neatening and packaging it into my philosophy thus becoming slick, complacent and arrogant.

This time round was different. I had been present when Kashka, the mother-goat, gave birth. Over the months I had dealt with diarrhoea among the newly-born, waves of ticks and goat politics. We all knew one another’s measure. We had a routine. They all trusted me. We were a team.

Sasha and Matt have a policy that when either slaughters, the other is not present. “It’s easier, that way,” Sasha explained. Consequently, I heard and didn’t see what happened. It was early morning. The mother kept calling.

“Dad, there’s never a good time,” Matt explained, “because they trust you right to the end.”

Before she stepped out to do it, I looked carefully at how Sasha was handling the situation. Her face was set like porcelain. She appeared a million miles away, locked into her own moment. She took a last gulp of her espresso.

I don’t think it was my imagination that after the killing the barnyard was in shock. All the goats had turned their backs on me. They chewed the cud and gazed into middle distance. Later Kashka came to me to ask. For days she kept looking. She kept calling.

“Of course,” Sasha confirmed, “but she will accept.”

And she has. The gash that rent the whole has closed as if nothing happened. But at times I still feel the incompleteness.

A few days after, Matt, Sasha and Enzo (their not yet one-year-old son) travelled to their smallholding on the other side of Sedgefield to spend a few days camping. Matt wanted to catch a fish for Enzo, which, he managed to do, just before nightfall.

“I walked back with it in my pack,” Matt shared. “It didn’t want to die. It must have listened to my footsteps. When I got to the tent, I gashed its brains with a knife. Killing is never easy, Dad. We cooked it on the coals. It was good.”

This post also uploaded to Medium.

What to do if a venomous snake comes into your home

The other day Shire, Kofi (our bull mastiffs) and I were shocked to see a more than metre long puff-adder in the lounge of my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law’s (Sasha) cob cottage in Suurbraak, where I was looking after their small off-grid farming operation. The puff-adder was equally shocked as it hissed, slithered and struck warningly at us. Terrified, I ordered the dogs out of the house; phoned Kria who lives nearby and, when there was no answer, her partner, Tristan, for the contact details of the local snake catcher who was unfortunately in Cape Town. Tristan, however, sent me the phone number of an alternative snake catcher, Nita Wessels, who, unfortunately, had moved to Riversdale, but who gave me the name of François Plaaitjies, who worked for the Swellendam SPCA, and who told me what to do, followed by a cautionary from Nita.

What to do, according to François

According to François puff adders are languid by nature so, using a long pole or stick, gently coax her towards the entrance to a box lined with newspaper and she will go inside. Then shut the lid.

Cautionary from Nita

According to Nita, although puff-adders appear sluggish and lethargic, they have one of the fastest strikes in South Africa and are the cause of most snake bites in the Western Cape. Nita suggests, therefore, that the old wives’ tale of a snake striking backwards stems from the speed of this ‘sluggish’ reptile. Also to remember that for every action there is a reaction. So if you jump around, the reptile will be just as agitated. Always better to reverse slowly until there’s a 2 metre gap, then search for a container.

What happened in my situation

In my experience it’s vital that you keep your eyes glued to the snake’s whereabouts – which proved impossible in my case, being alone, because when I returned with the box (photographed, above), the snake that had originally retreated to the corner of my bedroom, was now gliding towards the front door, saw me, changed direction to under the built-in bench and vanished from view. Luckily I was able to attract the attention of a neighbour, Gari Crawford, who was driving past, and who later courageously joined me and showed me how to make a stick with which to loop the snake (photographed) in order to drop her into a suitable receptacle – a modus operandi that, in the end, we didn’t need to apply.

Unfortunately neither of us could find the snake and so Gari went home while I continued searching the house. In the end after poking around in a hole in the cob that I noticed under the bench: out plopped the snake, which, after initial confusion, proceeded to return up the wall and into the recess.

Garry answered my second call, I again poked in the hole, the snake dropped out and, with a little coaxing from Gari’s stick, slid into the tote box we had prepared. I shut the lid and on François’ advice released the snake on Tradouw’s pass on the way to Barrydale.

Box with snake on Tradouw's Pass
Box on Tradouw’s Pass, containing the puff-adder, waiting to be opened
  1. Be careful.
  2. Back off slowly.
  3. Don’t kill the snake. Snakes perform an important ecological function.
  4. Keep your eyes on the snake all the time because if it vanishes there’s a chance that you might not find it again and forever live in fear.
  5. Therefore there needs to be 2 of you, so if you’re alone, phone a neighbour who can keep an eye on the snake as you go off to find a suitable box with lid, lined with torn newspaper, and to find a long stick.
  6. Don’t panic. Take your time. The snake will most likely stay put.
  7. When it’s time, gently help the snake find the entrance to the box.
  8. Give it time to enter.
  9. When it’s inside, close the lid.
  10. François says that snakes return so drive beyond the village or city fringe to where the snake will find mates and release her.
  11. Feel proud of what you and your partner have done by not harming her.
Puff-adder emerges
The puff-adder’s new mountain home
Nita Wessels

This is the 4th snake I’ve seen since moving to Suurbraak. The other 3 are still out there. A long thin black snake that drank from the pets’ water bowl before returning to the thick scrub near the boundary of the plot, what I think (or hope) is a non-poisonous house snake, and a longer, fatter, puff adder just beyond the boundary fence. I’m very new to this game so if you have questions then please contact Nita Wessels who manages the Askop Reptile Raptor & Game Farm, whom, I’m sure, will be more than happy to give advice –