Category Archives: Ethics

Living responsibly

There’s rustic and there’s rustic

“Rustic is in,” Lianne assured me. “You must see the rustic bed made from pallets and lights in Pinterest” (see below)

The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest
The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest

“Ja, but there’s rustic and there’s rustic,” I replied. “You’re talking the clothes in Swellendam mall: all torn (below see an example of what I mean – also ripped from Pinterest).”

Machine distressed jeans
Machine distressed jeans

Or, I could have added, these seven magnificently scrubbed and groomed gentlemen below

The Magnificent Seven: all scrubbed, groomed and waiting for the cameras
The Magnificent Seven: all scrubbed, groomed and waiting for the cameras

For rustic I invite you to the real thing, shovelling a winter barn’s worth of goat shit:

Spring-cleaning the barn
Spring-cleaning the barn

or this sawdust-based humanure composting toilet – because, as Joseph Jenkins points out in his The Humanure Handbook, we need to take responsibility for our own shit as we’re the only species that shits in our drinking water:

Sawdust humanure composting toilet
Sawdust humanure composting toilet

A little later in the evening Lianne mentioned that no one on the farm where she is leasing a cottage wants to slaughter. “Even when a cow dies, they don’t eat it, they bury it. When the owner asks the volk (workers) who will slag (slaughter) a rooster or a chicken they all vanish.”

“But you could do it yourself,” I point out. “My son and daughter-in-law slaughter. I respect them for that.”

“No!” and she shudders. This from someone who eats only meat, no vegetables.

“There’s rustic and there’s rustic,” I pointedly replied. Everyone laughed, Lianne included.

Designer, safe and nice versus the real

Yes, there’s rustic and there’s rustic. The one is designer, safe and nice, the other exposes us to real. But doing safe and nice might be our species’ psychological downfall, in that safe and nice cut us off from the  noumenal world-in-itself of Immanuel Kant or from what Jiddu Krishnamurti understood as the new. And feeling cut off leads to a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. People who are cut off from nature also cannot feel how their everyday actions (for instance, spraying their grass verges with Monsanto’s Roundup, or eating battery chickens and eggs) cause undue suffering to the non-human world of which we are part and is, I believe, at the heart of our planet’s crisis.

Transcript of Justice Malala’s interview with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan

What follows is a transcription of sections of video footage shot by eNCA of an interview conducted by political analyst Justice Malala with South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. The interview formed part of the annual Cape Town Open Book Festival hosted by the Book Lounge.

Please note that because the early footage I used breaks up (they might have corrected it by now) I was only able to follow part way into the interview. I’ve transcribed what I sense are sections of the interview that I believe are particularly relevant to the current political discourse and/or turmoil surrounding the South African Finance Ministry, South African Revenue Services and the Hawks Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

To view the actual footage to which the transcription speaks, please click on the accompanying link.

Excerpt one: ‘the rules of the (Finance Ministry) game … is to look after your money’

To view the video footage (20:00 – 21:00) please click here.

Pravin Gordhan (PG): … and all of these things require, that, whether, you’re a state-owned entity or a government department, these are the rules of the game, follow the rules of the game and if you follow the rules of the game then there is no need for any friction. And part of the rules of the game are, is, that we, part of our job is to look after your money. Part of our job is to stand before an audience like this and say your money is spent in an efficient way and in the public interest in the end of it all, and that’s the job we are trying to do. And if somebody becomes uncomfortable with us doing our job in terms of the letter of the law then it’s not our problem, it’s their problem. If we are reading the law incorrectly, if we are applying the law incorrectly then prove us wrong. But if we’re doing it the right way and that creates some discomfort on the other side, then they owe the public an explanation.

Screen shot of the eNCA video of Justice Malala interviewing South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, as part of the Cape Town Open Book Festival
Screen shot of the eNCA video of Justice Malala interviewing South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, as part of the Cape Town Open Book Festival
Excerpt two: ‘the extractors’ versus ‘very hardworking, honest people … who want to see public funds benefit 55 million people, not five’

To view the video footage (24:18 – 28:18) please click here.

PG: … I think what we do need in South Africa is to recognise that in most economic – all economic systems produce (unclear) – seeking phenomena of one kind or another …  and, uh, clearly in our society as well you’ve got the very hardworking, honest people, and then you have what many books call these days, ‘extractors’, people who unfairly and improperly benefit from … Whether these people are really doing it in this kind of way is for somebody to make a judgement on, at some stage. But what is far more important is that there are many people in government – the majority I believe, uh, ad outside who want to see public funds to benefit 55 million people, not five. And that’s the real story. How do we ensure on a day-to-day basis that those of us who are responsible for public finances, makes sure that that money benefits 55 million people … and what we need to ensure is that public oriented bodies serve all the people in South Africa, and that’s where the phrase, ah, that is our job. Our job is to implement the constitution, to give effect to the legislation and make sure all South Africans benefit and create policy framework that enable them – to all say we have a stake in this economy and be able to say thank you (audio for the last section not clear).

Screen shot of the eNCA video of South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan interviewed by Justice Malala, as part of the Cape Town Open Book Festival
Screen shot of the eNCA video of South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan interviewed by Justice Malala, as part of the Cape Town Open Book Festival
Excerpt three: ‘Are you above the law?’

To view the video footage (28:19 – 31:20) please click here.

Justice Malala (JM): A lot of people are saying, well, Finance Minister Gordhan should subject himself to the law, and go to the Hawks, and like everybody else be questioned. Are you above the law?

PG: (coughs) No no, you can arrest me now if you want to but whatever have I done wrong?  That’s the question. If you’re (unclear) saying (???) then why not subject myself? But above all, ah, then the public should know I’ve taken legal advice, you’ve heard (coughs), sorry about this cough, you’ve heard Judge Kriegler write about this and talk about this outside the Hawks office for example last week, ah, ah, that (pause) I’m not required to go there, firstly, secondly, all the questions have been asked, all the questions have been answered, thirdly, in every piece of correspondence, of any substance between my lawyers and the Hawks, and the prosecuting authority – there’s a line there which says, ‘Should you require any more information, please contact us’.  They haven’t – yet. So they’re welcome. If there’s some piece of information they require they’re most welcome to ask, we’ll give them the information. I don’t have to be dragged through a cordon of press people or whatever it is just to show the world that the Hawks have got this chap here. This is what Judge Kriegler was talking about in his article(s) (??). So I’m not above the law, nobody should be above the law, and anyway that’s the wrong narrative. The real question here is Tom Moyani, who is the head of the South African Revenue Service laid a complaint some time in 2014 or thereabouts with the Hawks. Since then you’ve had a newspaper that carried an 18-month campaign against certain individuals. At the end of the 18 months’ period that newspaper had to apologise in one whole page. So what had it done? Because it didn’t have proof of the stuff it was accusing people of. Some of you might remember reading both the front pages and the page where there was the apology. Then the newspaper began to take a different tack. So as we sit today (pause) what’s the problem? (pause) Who’s accused of what? So there are people who have been stealing hundreds of millions of Rands and getting away with it and none of the people concerned in this particular matter have stolen a cent as far as I know. So why this disproportional treatment, and, and, what motivates it – and you’re (pointing to Justice Malala) not allowed any more questions (laughter), so, these are my questions (an interjection – unclear), so, ah, we’ll certainly co-operate with whatever legal obligations we have. And I’ve had good legal advice, and I’m not just doing this on a whim or fancy (unclear), I’m doing it in accordance with the interpretation of the law (applause).

Note:  Judge Kriegler is a retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

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)

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.

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

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?

What happens after trust is lost?

I noticed a hard cyst on Pegasus the goat (see above and the footnote). I was staying on Matt and Sasha’s plot in Suurbraak (footnote). The following day the cyst was oozing. Sasha explained via email how to treat it (footnote).

It took me x3 espressos and x4 blocks of whole nut chocolate to come round to accepting that I would have to deal with it that very day. It took almost as long to prepare for the operation, before I walked into the open field across from Matt and Sasha’s plot, took hold of and then lead Pegasus slowly and gently back to the plot, hooked her to the gate, locked away the dogs and started the procedure.

My mother had been a nurse so I knew all about getting in deep and thoroughly draining before applying the dressing.

While leading her from the field and throughout the procedure which, as Sasha predicted, was clearly painful, I spoke reassuringly to Pegasus. It therefore seemed to come as a surprise to her, when I indicated that the procedure was over. She then slowly ambled off to join the others.

As instructed, I discarded the puss and cloths and sterilised the receptacles and implements.

I am grateful to Pegasus for allowing me to drain the cyst down to the blood. I also feel privileged that she and the other goats allow me to milk them and to pluck ticks – even from their eyebrows.

The other day in their barn, while feeding barley to each goat in turn, it came to me that the heart of love is not passion but intimacy, whereby another allows you into her or his or its space. And then I think about dogs chained in back yards (see below), battery chickens with no beaks, livestock born into CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and mammals in laboratory cages, and I wonder how we as a species, very recently – in our lifetime, allowed it to happen, and what the implications for us all will be.

Maltreated dog
Maltreated dog

Matt and Sasha’s name for their middle she-goat is Pegasus.


Suurbraak is a mission village in the Western Cape of South Africa off the N2 highway just beyond Buffelsjagsrivier on the way to Barrydale

Sasha’s instructions

Yes it is unfortunately a little infection that is re-occurring. You basically need to wait until it is ‘ripe’ – that is when the ball is not so solid and softer to the touch – and then you need to pierce it and to thoroughly empty it. Best is to lance it with a scalpel, alternatively a very sharp knife; it is quite gross and gives off a foul smell. Sometimes she scratches it open on her own and you must then quickly (when you spot it!) empty it. We use lots of toilet paper to squeeze it out and then clean out the wound with an antiseptic to a soapy mix – there should be some near the basin in the barn. There you will also find green clay (in a powder or gel form) to then cover the wound with, and avoid fly or bacterial infection. Make sure to squeeze it out until you get to blood and to put all contaminated paper and tools in a plastic bag to throw away. Wash your hands thoroughly and do not touch other goats with ‘contaminated’ hands as we read that these types of cysts are innocuous but unfortunately contagious. It sucks. Emptying the cyst can be painful for the goat so you might ask Kria to come and help you handle the goat whilst you do it. If this turns you off I am sure you can ask Kria to handle it for you, she accepted to be our stand-in vet.

Writers who help me make sense of my world

My concerns are a deadness consuming our planet, and tyranny. I believe the two are related, in that at their core is the human species, you and I. Deadness and tyranny take many forms but come about mainly because I disassociate by failing to own the actions that flow from who I am, and for what I stand. Consequently I live entirely in my head, being unable to feel anything. The extracts quoted below speak in their individual ways to these themes.

Pumla Gobodo-MadikizelaA Human Died that Night

Many white South Africans here and abroad, still do not own their complicity in Apartheid but, instead, conveniently project it onto someone else like, for instance, Eugene de Kock (“Prime Evil”) whom Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela writes about in the quote below from the above-mentioned book.

Eugene de Kock, or ‘Prime Evil’ as he was called, is currently serving a 212 year sentence for crimes against humanity in terms of his role as head of Vlakplaas, a unit tasked to assassinate perceived enemies of Apartheid <Wikipedia: Eugene de Kock >

I was angry that the same society that had created de Kock, that had accepted his murderous protection of their privilege, had ostracised him and were now standing in judgment of him. | Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla (2003:34) A Human Died that Night. David Philip. Cape Town

Vasily Grossman – An Armenian Sketchbook

Grossman, in the quote below is writing about Joseph Stalin’s stature on a hill above Yerevan that was subsequently removed and replaced by the Mother Armenia statue. <Wikipedia: Mother Armenia>

Initially, the citizens of Armenia ‘hysterically worship(ped)’, and, when the tied changes, ‘totally reject(ed)’ Stalin.

My attempts to say a word about Stalin’s role in the creation of the Soviet State were in vain. My companions would not concede that he had played even the slightest role in the construction of heavy industry, in the conduct of the war, in the creation of the Soviet state apparatus: everything had been achieved regardless of him, in spite of him. Their lack of objectivity was so glaring that I felt an involuntary urge to stand up for Stalin. This absolute lack of objectivity might be said to resemble nothing so much as the lack of objectivity these same people had shown during Stalin’s life, when they had been so supremely worshipful of his mind and strength of will, of his foresight and genius. Their hysterical worship of Stalin and their total and unconditional rejection of him sprang from the same soil. | Grossman, Vasily (2013:28) An Armenian Sketchbook. Maclehose Press. London.

W.G. Sebald – On the Natural History of Destruction

Sebald, in the quotation below condemns the way that Germans and, particularly, German writers, have disengaged from the horrors inflicted on Germans by the Allied bombing raids and also the horrors inflicted by Germans on others, particularly Jews during the Second World War. He contrasts the works of the aforementioned writers with that of Jean Améry in the following extract:

It is this scrupulous restraint in his account of the torture he suffered that enables Améry to put forward a theory about what he still regards as the dark riddle of Nazi Fascism, one in which the common explanation of it as a national perversion has no place. He sees the practice of persecuting, torturing, and exterminating an arbitrarily chosen adversary not as a lamentable but incidental feature of totalitarian rule but, unreservedly, as its essential expression. He remembers “serious, tense faces [ . ] concentrated in murderous self-realization. With heart and soul they went about their business, and the name of it was power, domination over spirit and flesh, an orgy of unchecked self-expansion.” To Améry, the world devised and realized by German Fascism was the world of torture in which “man exists only by ruining the other person who stands before him.” | Sebald, W.G. (translated by Anthea Bell) 2003:153-4) On the Natural History of Destruction. The Modern Library. New York.

John Berger – Bento’s Sketchbook

The dust-cover to Berger’s book states, inter alia, that ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’ is about ‘the pitilessness of the new world order and the forms of resistance to it’. In the section quoted below Bento sketches and then describes ‘the new tyrants’:


Study the faces of the new tyrants. I hesitate to call them plutocrats for the term is too historical and these men belong to a phenomenon which is unprecedented. Let’s settle for profiteers. Their profiteer faces have many features in common. This conformity is partly circumstantial — they possess similar talents and they live according to similar routines — and partly it is chosen as a style.

My diagram is based on men from the North. Obviously a portrait of a profiteer from the South would be different, yet I suspect the same tendencies would be apparent.
Their ages vary but the style is that of men in their late forties. They are impeccable, dressed and their tailoring is reassuring like the silhouette of high-security delivery vans. Armor Mobile Security.

Studying their features you have the impression that they have no pronounced, let alone excessive, physical appetites —apart from an insatiable appetite for control. Far from looking monstrous, their faces, although somewhat strained, seem almost bland.

They have foreheads with many horizontal creases. Not fur-rows ploughed by thought but rather lines of incessant passing information.

Small, swift eyes which examine everything and contemplate nothing. Ears extensive as a database, but incapable of listening.

Lips which seldom tremble, and mouths which take decisions implacably.

They gesture a lot with their hands, and with their hands they demonstrate formulae and do not touch experience.

Their heads of hair, meticulously arranged as if for an aeronautic velocity test.
The assured confidence visible in their faces matches their ignorance, which is also visible.

You (i.e. Bento) described how there are three forms of knowledge. A haphazard form based on hearsay and impressions and never related to any whole. A knowledge, using adequate ideas, concerning the properties of things. And thirdly, a knowledge concerning the essence of things which add up to God.

The profiteers know nothing, but nothing, about either the properties or the essence of things. They are familiar only with their own impressions of their own rackets. Hence their paranoia and, generated by the paranoia, their repetitive energy. Their repeated article of faith is: There is no alternative. || Berger, John (2011:146-7). Bento’s Sketchbook. Verso. London.

Those among us who are so disassociated from who they are and their feelings are capable of great harm. Dante calls them the neutrals, apathetics, or waverers, and he has them quarantined in the ante-chamber to hell – in case they contaminate the universe. I write about the neutrals, apathetics and waverers in Enter.