To braai or not to braai?

2009-09-30 00:00

A SHORT news item (The Witness, September 23) urged all South Africans to celebrate Heritage Day with a braai, as the smell of a braai is something that “people of different races, creeds, cultures, tribes, religions, sexes and age groups can relate to”. Really? Is this the measure of our patriotism and commitment to our heritage?

There is, of course, a growing number of vegetarians who do not eat meat for ethical or religious reasons, and they should no longer simply be dismissed as belonging to the “lunatic fringe”. It is possible to have a most delectable vegetarian braai, as sharing a meal with friends outdoors is a particularly enjoyable way to celebrate anything.

But certainly, in some circles the ceremony of the meat braai is almost religiously endorsed. Traditionally, meat eating is associated­ with prosperity and virility, so much so that the typical barbecue ritual requires that the cooking of the meat is the preserve of the males, and women and children are expected to remain separated from the fire, the central focus of the event. The women prepare the salads and non-meat foods, and are

expected to clear up afterwards — the participants generally being totally unaware of the strictly gendered, even machismo, nature of the event.

To claim that a braai is the most appropriate way of celebrating our national heritage is extraordinarily superficial, especially with the latest fad for cooking warthog, wildebeest and various types of antelope. This ignores our oft-repeated pride in our wonderful “wildlife”, a unique and crucial part of our heritage to be protected and preserved for future generations of South Africans, as well as the hordes of foreign tourists hopefully attracted to participate in the “face-to-face wilderness experience”. The deep connectedness between humans and other animals so lauded and celebrated by this “eco-tourism” is conveniently overlooked in the enthusiasm to slaughter and consume both “domestic” and “wild” animals.

Outraged members of white communities who condemn the slaughtering of a bull in a suburban back yard by members of the black community, seem to assume that the butchering of hordes of cattle, pigs and sheep in abattoirs is somehow much more civilised. The end result of both enterprises is the death of a terrified animal and the consumption of its flesh (corpse).

Does either of these rituals consummate our link with our ancestors? In fact, is this not simply another example of human hubris and callousness, reinforcing the view that exploitation and domination are the human prerogative in their dealings with the riches of the natural world and the entire planet, something far more likely to decimate our heritage than preserve it?

• Dr Alleyn Diesel is an honorary research fellow at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, specialising in Hinduism in the province.

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