For the love of ?pigs

2014-07-14 21:00

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I have a soft spot for pigs because these animals have played a hugely positive role in my life.

So you can imagine my horror at the cannibalisation due to neglect at the farm of North West Premier Thandi Modise.

I have thus far succeeded in avoiding seeing the pictures. The cruelty that happened on that farm must be seen as separate from the hyper self-righteousness of racist notions that black people can’t farm or are incapable of taking care of animals.

Let’s go to the beginning. My father was a farm worker, incidentally on various farms in North West around Potchefstroom.

To augment his slave wages, he claimed a piece of land just across the gravel soccer field and established a piggery.

Our livelihood as a large family depended not so much on his wages but on the pigs.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I think of my father more as a labour tenant than a farm worker. Labour tenants are serfs who give their labour to the white landed lords in exchange for land use instead of a wage.

My father was a successful landless pig farmer. His pigs were so well reared they competed favourably with the white farmer’s pedigreed pigs that were fed special food, medicine and I’m sure lots of hormones.

Andile Mngxitama feeds pigs at a small farm in Philippi, Cape Town. During apartheid, it was his father’s piggery that came through for him and his large family. Picture: Lulama Zenzile

From working so closely with pigs, I know you can’t starve pigs, you would need special skills to achieve such a feat because pigs are the greatest recyclers – in their wake, nothing goes to waste.

Pigs literally eat everything! Pigs also like their food rotten. You really don’t need to feed them complicated vegan dishes to keep them happy. This reality alone accentuates the level of sins that occurred on that farm.

A bit of attention, rotten food and a regular supply of water makes piggy’s life go round. My father also knew how to cross-breed to get a perfect species. He was so good that white farmers used to come and get young boars from us for breeding. Well, in piggy land, superfluous males are castrated for pork. There is nothing as nasty as eating matured pork that has not been castrated. The meat stinks and it’s tough.

I was rather intrigued by both the castration and the birth-giving seasons. I was repulsed by newborn pigs, but ironically shared the sad loss of manhood with the newly castrated.

The castration procedure requires a surgeon’s skill with the scalpel and the ability of an experienced nurse to dress the wound. My father’s hand was as steady as Hamilton Naki’s when he handled a human heart. Sadly, Naki’s history of doing the first heart transplant was wrongly credited to Chris Barnard.

Pigs were our bank. When winter came and jerseys and school shoes were needed, it was the pigs we sold. When school demanded extra cash for whatever the principal deemed necessary, it was to piggy we turned.

So the idea of a piggy bank for me is not a symbolic thing. But apartheid and racism made my father’s life impossibly difficult as a pig farmer. The treatment he suffered in quiet dignity is the stuff that calls for reparation.

The happy times were when he could successfully get a struggling white farmer to front for him at the auction. Then his pigs fetched good money. But often the white bidders would figure his pigs out and they would depress prices so low he would refuse to sell.

Unhappy were the afternoons his pigs returned because of the conspiracy of white racism.

My father suffered in silence and impeccable dignity. He was a man who suppressed a monumental outburst. All he would ever say is “whites!”, and then he’d busy himself with chores.

Maybe the cancer that took his life started long before the dust of the mining houses clogged his lungs to ensure white people pocketed the profits.

Maybe at the end of the day, I simply have basic respect for pigs, much more than I have for the politician who uses political connections to secure a loan from the Land Bank then takes the cash and lets the animals starve.

Maybe the title “honourable” should go to piggy. What have politicians done in the past 20 years to deserve the honour of being honourable?

No, my love and respect for pigs is not a hippie thing. I have slaughtered a young pig when the family needed meat in winter. My father was proud of my skill with this sort of thing, maybe the only thing that I did well. I respect the pig because when the white man’s system denied us means to survive, it was piggy who came through for us.

Today, I say with a measure of sadness that pigs took me to school, but Thandi Modise starved them to death.

Mngxitama is an EFF MP

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