Cheap ‘wors’ — a metaphor for our society

2013-04-17 00:00

IN what now seems like a previous life, I worked in a butchery. I never cut meat, but I dealt with the public, played the cash register piano and did general jobs around the shop. My future careers were enriched by this unusual education in a way a tertiary degree could not have done. One of my enduring memories is that we put real meat in our wors. My father’s philosophy was “Don’t sell what you won’t eat yourself”.

Morally, this was a good philosophy. However, with continued meat price rises, eventually we had to increase the price of our boerewors. And soon we were accused of greed. We were told many competitors had wors that was half our price. We warned our customers that most of that was probably not what is regarded as good meat.

It’s ironic that stories are coming out now of butcheries putting stuff like goat’s meat into their wors. What’s more shocking is that people are shocked. This has been going on for ages. From a moral perspective, of course it’s wrong. But from a business perspective, it’s simple. In a society that turns a blind eye to extortion in the form of high interest, added charges and terms and conditions, it’s following broader economic trends. If you want to use real meat in wors, you have to add an appropriate mark-up. If you want to sell cheaper wors, there is no way you can use “good” meat. So my father, who used real meat, was accused of being uncompetitive.

Many boasted of their bargains. Now they are having their wors and eating it. It’s strange how people only tasted goat’s meat after they were told it existed.

Our democracy is a consumer democracy. It’s not based on insight and analysis, but shallow observations and short-term choices. Wors is a metaphor for our society. We like easy, suppposedly cheap choices and popular solutions. We do not like hard choices. And so our society is full of cheap wors. The compromises between unions and governments to share power, instead of fulfilling their relevant functions independently and representing their constituents, is cheap wors, for example.

As they say in Afrikaans, goedkoop is duurkoop. In no way can deception of this nature be condoned, yet do not forget: when you rail against butchers robbing you, how the banks kill you with interest rates, the car dealerships and furniture stores charge you extras and repossess your possessions even after you have paid more than the cash price. Don’t forget the unscrupulous who threaten people who are already in debt and lacking legal knowledge into signing garnishee orders. Deception occurs daily in society. Let’s look at the underlying attitude.

Another problem recently highlighted is the mislabelling of products. This too is unfortunately common in our democracy. Not only are meat products falsely labelled, but political products are falsely labelled too. For example, the concept of democracy as people’s rule. What people’s rule do we have? We vote for parties, not policies, which get determined by closed- door committees and the funders of political parties. Terms like workers’ struggle and revolution are labels to coerce people into accepting mediocrity, in the same way that people can be persuaded to buy anything that has an organic label on it. Politics is a mind game.

I wonder about many unanswered questions. And I feel sorry for butchers. They are emblematic of the class of workers who are essential for the fulfillment of society’s desires, yet no one wants to be them. They are our denied unconscious. Nearly everybody wants to eat meat, but nobody wants to work in a butchery.

While everybody is trying to become teachers and nurses, why can’t some stimulus be given to some of our local industries, particularily the small-scale producers of meat, and I’m not meaning the big cartels that control meat prices and make the public cough up at Christmas time?

Don’t only blame the butcher. He is just a footsoldier in a war that is not his own.

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