Renouncing the Rhino

2012-12-13 11:07

Benjamin Fogel

Originally published on

I used to like Rhinos, I never loved them, but I thought they were pretty cool. I once even saw a couple in the wild with my parents in Kruger National Park. Sadly, like so many other things, rhinos have been ruined for me. I can’t like them anymore. I don’t dislike them personally, but I hate what they have come to represent. Don’t get me wrong — rhinos are blameless in this scenario. Rhinos can’t help that their horns are a valuable commodity with a high demand in parts of Asia and they live near lots of desperate people or that some rich Americans like to travel to the dark continent to kill things.

My beef with rhinos is more of a beef with white South Africa as a whole (yes I know I’m a white South African). What gets to me is the Sandton, Constantia or “insert fortress suburb of your choice” housewives in their oversized SUVs, who listen to Freshlyground (’cause they aren’t racist) and shop at Woolworths, when they venture out of their gated communities and who now place red plastic horns on the bonnet to show their solidarity with the rhinos. Dubbed the “Rhinose,” these horns are even made of recycled goods and fit right in with your Eco-friendly Golf estate and fair trade coffee.

Also to blame are the trance ‘hippies’ who claim to be progressive — some even call themselves anarchists — and who are into the whole new age pacifist scene, but yet regularly call for the deaths of rhino poachers. Or the same people who clog my Facebook wall with calls to save the rhinos and send me hundreds of different Avaaz petitions.

What all of these different social groupings have in common, besides being mostly white, is that while they have endless time for the rhino they have little or nothing to say about contemporary South Africa. Little or nothing, beyond the normal white persecution complex which endures in the form of calls for Woolworths’ boycott or calling Black Economic Empowerment (or the University of Cape Town) entrance requirement “reverse apartheid.”

When the state gunned down 34 miners at Marikana for asking for a living wage, they were silent. Hell, I saw plenty of people suggest that they had it coming because they were ‘unskilled’ and uneducated. I’ve seen far more of these plastic horns than say “Justice for Marikana” stickers on cars. No Facebook likes or Avaaz petitions, even.

When farm workers in the Western Cape went on strike for a minimum wage of R150 a day ($20) they were silent again. They are largely silent about inequality, poverty and institutional racism. In a country in which unemployment hovers around 40% overall, around half of the country lives below the poverty line and we can boast of being the second most unequal society in the world after Namibia.

It’s kind of hard to miss social realities in such an environment.

This is a country in which the game was and largely continues to be rigged in favor of white people, who still continue to deny they benefited and continue to benefit from Apartheid. How many white South Africans actually admit to having voted for the National Party (they ruled South Africa between 1948 and 1994)? This is a country where you have to be intentionally ignorant to deny the reality of racial inequality; one has to ignore the millions living in shacks or the sheer extent of desperation in a country where people are prepared to die for R150 a day.

Maybe I’m just anthropecentric, but where was this voice of the moneyed middle class when the state committed the worst act of mass violence since Apartheid? Also, where were they when video of community activist Andries Tatane was broadcast on the evening news, or when Western Cape Premier Helen Zille ordered local police to invade Hangberg? I know. I saw far more sorrow and anger over the Rhino issue.

At my Alma Mater, Rhodes University, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, there was not one public meeting in the aftermath of the massacre, but I can recall numerous campaigns to save the Rhino and at least one mural put up on a wall outside the library. Ironically, the same people — who when you can eventually get them to talk about politics endlessly bemoan the corruption and incompetence of our current government — reflexively sympathize with the state when it illegally breaks up protests or shoots poor black people. But at least they speak up for the voiceless rhinos and even buy the rhino friendly bags from Woolworths (yes these exist too).

For these reasons, I hate rhinos, they symbolize the sheer disjuncture between white South Africans of fortress suburbia and the struggles of a country still attempting to realize some measure of social justice for the vast majority. For me, it shows that for the majority of white South Africa, black life still means very little — if anything at all. Animals for them are more important than human life.

It seems like far more outrage was expressed over a T-shirt containing the words “I benefited from apartheid” than over the fact that people are earning R69 a day in the farms or that millions of black children go bed hungry in shacks every night. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but I’m not indulging in hyperbole when I say that I’m not being unfair to the majority.

I’m not renouncing the rhino because I want to claim the moral high ground or because the plastic rhino horns look like dildos or because I want to maintain a measure of dignity. I’m doing it because I refuse to be complicit in apolitical narcissism that still prevails amongst white South Africans. Rhino politics, if it’s not matched with the same focus on humans, belongs in the same dustbin of history — #Kony2012 replete with Jason Russell’s public masturbation included.

White South Africans probably won’t suddenly take to the streets in solidarity with striking black workers or decide to pay farm workers more than starvation wages, but I hope at least some of us can end the denial and start contributing to this country in a serious fashion. Or if not at least sign the Avaaz petition.

Benjamin Fogel is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa. He writes about politics and in his spare time listens to hip hop and rants. He can be contacted at

  • jaredsacks1 - 2012-12-13 11:41

    Great article!

  • kaylaroux17 - 2012-12-13 11:46

    I am with you, Ben. I think people need to reprioritize when it comes to their fellow-feeling - a lot of guilt is being misdirected towards rhinos.

  • ant.abomb - 2012-12-13 12:16

    Anyone with an inkling of morality will at some point find themselves fighting for a cause. If it were possible to fight injustice as a whole, that would be great, but its not. We all choose one cause or another and through this we fight injustice as a whole. Bemoaning the fact that someone has not chosen your preferred cause or even worse, turning it into a race issue, is counterproductive in the larger fight against injustice. Accept and rejoice in the fact that people are fighting injustice no matter which cause they lend their time to, whether this be poverty, child abuse, animal abuse etc etc.

  • xoli.mabiya - 2012-12-13 12:17

    Great article mate, now prepare for the onslaught..

  • daniel.v.niekerk.1 - 2012-12-13 13:04

    I think you over simplify the matter.

      Slowrider - 2012-12-13 18:03

      I think you do not understand the matter, because it is simple. If ALL the rhinos all over the world were to die today, I will still pay my taxes, Sanral will still try to rob me blind, etc. Apparently the red horn idiots have so much money and time on their hands that other people's troubles are alien to them.

  • avremel.niselow - 2012-12-13 13:07

    Pathetic racist rubbish, please go back to the Kruger Park and get charged by a rhino, who are you to tell people what causes they should support? You are clearly in favor of the Marikana strikers who murdered policemen, security guards and non-striking workers. What did the rhinos do?

  • Rammsteen - 2012-12-13 16:01

    If I choose to support any cause which I deem worthy, it has nothing to do with you. If I help fellow humans around me to keep head above water, it has nothing to do with you. If I choose to mentor young guys trying to make it in a corporate world, it has nothing to do with you. If I pain about rhino's and spend MY hard earned cash to support their cause - you guessed it - it has sweet blue f all to do with you. Please write about something political or go listen to some hip hop?

  • pandakidzveggiegarden - 2012-12-13 16:05

    Ben, speaking as a WHITE South African who decided to leave SA, because I couldn't get a job, back in 1992, I didn't moan or blame anyone for this but realized that my country had to change, and that if I were to move forward it would not be in South Africa. I have to ask myself who the hell you are, because for someone who has so much to say about the South African WHITES, I have never heard of, or seen you before!Personally I think that you are trying to make some profound statement, but because you are incapable of saying anything of importance that hasn't been said before, you have decided to rope in the Rhino issue and by so doing piss people off thus making them aware of who you and only you think you are......Newsflash mate nobody gives a s...! A word of advice grow up and if you have some contribution to make to society then do so, as an individual not by bringing attention to yourself through the Rhino. There is only so long that you can go on blaming apartheid and the WHITES for everything. South Africa is a much more complex place than it was before liberation, with many people doing amazing things and just as many, of all colours and ethnic backgrounds, working hard to destroy a heritage which was left in their hands, to protect for the generations to come. Unfortunately Ben you are not helping, if you feel as strongly as you do about certain issues then do someting about it, and respect those of us who are fighting the Rhino cause! CASE OF FOOT IN MOUTH.......

  • michel.zwaan.7 - 2012-12-13 16:53

    Well. This is one big bunch of BS if you can pardon my French. I am a White Dutchman who grew up here between '68 and '78 and had nothing to do with politics. In 2010 I decided to leave the Netherlands and go back to the country I grew up in and loved. Nature became my calling and I found myself a beautiful job on a wildfarm. I earn the same wage as the rest of the farmworkers and I get by. Politics has nothing to do with it all. I work with wildlife every day and my cause is the Rhino cause and I do call for every poacher that is found to be shot dead. Inhumane?? No. Not at all. I would be inhumane if I called for those individuals to have their horn cut of and send back into Kruger while bleeding. You are rocking a boat here bud that needs to be kept alone. Like Cato declared to the Senate of ancient Rome each time he finished his speach that Cartage must be destroyed, I will finish every post on Facebook with the sentence: "One shot for one poachers life."

      Rammsteen - 2012-12-13 20:34

      I feel it Michel, I was in the same boat (from Apeldoorn) the animals get under your skin even more than people do sometimes. Some people are just ignorant about nature; a pity they are supplied with a soapbox to display their ignorance.

      helen.watermelon.16 - 2012-12-14 17:08

      I agree, shoot the whole lot of scumbag poachers

      TawwaTienie - 2013-01-04 13:10


  • theodmoyo - 2012-12-13 17:21

    Ben Fogel for President!!! "For me, it shows that for the majority of white South Africa, black life still means very little – if anything at all. Animals for them are more important than human life." Respect."Journalism that spits the truth!!! GREAT ARTICLE!

      Rammsteen - 2012-12-13 20:45

      You know Theo, it is people like you that would cease my hope and divert all my attenion to animals. Go listen to some hip hop with bra Ben.

      helen.watermelon.16 - 2012-12-14 17:05

      Theo you are an idiot,and a moron, rhinos face extinction, people dont, big difference dont you think... obviously you dont think

      Rammsteen - 2012-12-14 17:48

      Cool pseudonym, Helen!

  • dell.beissel - 2012-12-13 18:07

    Well thankfully you are just a guest here but then again everyone is entitled to have his or her say in our democratic society. However I think you have missed the mark completely and appear to be extremely narrow minded in your article. As Xoli Mabiya posted earliet - be prepared for the onslaught! For you to "assume and insinuate" that the "white" people are all affluent? I for one am a single parent struggling like most others due to exorbitant rises in taxes etc to pay for Nkandla. Why have the Chiefs/Cmmunity not got help from anyone to express their outrage that Zuma will have his own clinic when the surrounding very poor community does not have one and nor will they be allowed access to this? I support 4 charities with a very small monthly contribution who punt the help toward orphaned Aids Babies - all Black I might add. However I might have to change this and support those Institutions that won't be receiving any further funding as they have White babies - how ridiculous is that - a baby is a baby, much like the Rhino that have NO voice! Now Lonmin's tragic Marikana - the Majority shareholder was Cyril Ramaphosa - not us Whiteys, but very wealthy Cyril. Did he ONCE voice HIS sorrow to this tradgedy? No he didn't because he is clever enough to know that this was part of his doing. He creates off-spinning shareholding groups like Shanduka and Incwala to lure investors with even more money... Where did all the profits from Lonmin go to? Damn run out of spac

  • dell.beissel - 2012-12-13 18:08

    continued - now to the Grape Pickers - I do not know what conditions they live in and I do know that there are some very unscrupulous Farmers that do not treat their workers well. Having said this, the current wage was set by the Government of this day. Need I say more?

  • matthew.ferrey - 2012-12-13 18:20

    Good article, poor logic. The rhino is blameless, the deaths at Marikana and the other issues are the result of man's indiscretion, on both sides of the disaster. Many good causes, but many unrelated causes. Please send me some of your stash...

  • tim.stewart.7127 - 2012-12-13 18:41

    You don't hate rhinos, you hate the white elite. Who i wouldn't necessarily label as racist but apathetic, useless and clueless.

  • renata.harper.5 - 2012-12-13 18:52

    The perception that saving rhinos is a "white thing" is definitely worth discussing. It's just a pity you took such a vitriolic approach. And gosh, all those stereotypes. I can't relate to any (except buying from Woolies – when I can afford it) and for a minute there I thought, "Well, I must be a black man!" It's also presumptuous to assume black people don't care about rhinos. I suspect some do, some don't. Just like some white people care, and others don't. (Can we have more opinions from black readers?) You're right about our severe human/socio-economic issues, but you view it as a zero sum game: if I support rhinos, I don't support anything else; that conservation comes at the expense of people. In fact the two can work together. And even if someone's passion, above all others, is rhinos, he/she should be applauded for taking up the cause for a creature that doesn't have a voice and is so vulnerable to exploitation. That's an attitude to be encouraged in our country, not criticised. I understand your frustration with all the rhino "in your face", but you're missing a key point: the fight against rhino poaching is not just about rhinos. It's about corruption, greed, poverty, border conflict, illegal trade, security, our relationship with the natural world, our natural heritage. The rhino is (as Dr Fowlds says) "a charismatic beast" – it speaks to people more than say, an ugly endangered beetle – but in saving the rhino, we save entire ecosystems (beetle included).

  • shaun.cameron.18 - 2012-12-13 20:55

    I will support the protection of Rhino and the people can look after themselves. Inasmuch as betake myself to nonaction, The people of themselves become developed. Inasmuch as I love quietitude, The people of themselves become righteous. Inasmuch as I make no fuss, The people of themselves become wealthy. Inasmuch as I am free from desire, The people of themselves remain simple.

  • Charles - 2012-12-14 07:06

    Sheez! Why don't you do the honorable thing and emigrate so you can make a contribution to the country by removing your narrow minded , racist , generalizing ass ! Alternatively , quit journalism and get into politics , grandstanding is acceptable in that field !

  • christo.britz1 - 2012-12-14 07:15

    Pathetic article!!!! If you have all the answers to life in SA then why are you so filled with Anger to almost everyone that keeps this country ticking over day after day? And agreed, why rope the Rhino into your pathetic piece of woe? Nice catchphrase to get people to read your hatespeach.

  • liza.bourdelle - 2012-12-14 11:03

    We live in a world where money and greed talks. Humans are so set upon killing the planet they have no regards for animals, the enviroment or even for each other. I have driven behind cars where people throw plastic bags of rubbish out the window. This is a lack of basic respect for each other. People kill for R100 and a cell phone. There is no respect for the world around us. Save the rhino, save the tiger, save the whales - whatever you want - these animals are all killed by humans who make a choice to do so. These animals do not have a chance to fight back. There are hundreds of charities that go into townships to give blankets, Christmas presents,food, medical assistance, families that put their domestic's kids through school and of course each and every South African realises the racial inequality in this country.But unfortunately the poverty in the country is so great and the government doesn't seem to give a rat's ass about fixing it either. Instead the president gets his "Nkandla" while his voters still go hungry. How can you say that white South Africans don't care about black life in this country - do you not think our hearts not break when we have to read about children being raped in order to cure AIDS? Or are you just specifically talking about black people that protest against poor service delivery? So go print yourself a t-shirt thay says "Save the farmworker" - since the government isn't doing anything about it.

  • warwick.bristow - 2012-12-14 11:57

    There are too many generalizations and stereotypes in this article to take it seriously. Not every white and black person in this country fits into the moulds you are portraying.

  • helen.watermelon.16 - 2012-12-14 13:26

    What a crap article, rhinos will be extinct soon, people wont, so thats the difference

  • helen.watermelon.16 - 2012-12-14 17:07

    Ben Fogel you are truly a first class idiot, what a load of crap, rhinos face extinction and people dont.

      ian.lester.71216 - 2012-12-16 21:47

      Helen. To the child whose father doesn't come home because he was gunned down, or to the widow who buries her husband and cannot understand why, the concept of extinction is more real than you can possibly comprehend.

  • avremel.niselow - 2012-12-14 17:24

    Standard white leftist, only way they feel they can be accepted is by endlessly bashing other whites. They hate people who make generalizations about blacks, then turn around and talk about "whiteness", imagine if a columnist blamed south Africa's problems on"blackness"?

      kingKanete - 2012-12-17 10:15

      that would be ok if the columnist was black

  • Gert van Coller - 2012-12-14 23:49


  • liezl.haramis.7 - 2012-12-15 06:31

    Pathetic fool! I will stand up for the rhinos, theyre animals! What hapoens to the black people is self inflicted and theyre doing a pretty good job of demanding and eish and stealing to care for themselves! You dont belong in SA.

  • steve.adams.524 - 2012-12-15 07:35

    News 24 must be really scraping the barrel. Such vitriolic crap I have never encountered from a so-called journalist. Have someone take a picture of you, then stick it on a punch-bag, then take out your aggression on it. Put your hip-hop on loud, it really helps to put you in the mood.

  • flysouth - 2012-12-15 10:31

    "game was and largely continues to be rigged in favor of white people" Really? - show me any law today which creates or promotes this alleged situation. You are talking immature crap.

  • Bob - 2012-12-15 16:24

    Another lefty who's so out of touch with reality. Most blacks have every opportunity to advance themselves, have a successful career. Able bodied, adult blacks who live in poverty do so because they're rather take hand outs and vote ANC to get some free KFC instead of thinking strategically and holding themselves accountable for their failures. This black victimization attitude is among the many things that is so wrong with this world. Humans in general are despicable and since the entire planet is becoming one big trashcan because of us, I personally couldn't care about rhinos since they're a drop in the ocean among the problems we create. But I'll be damned if I'm expected to care more about self-righteous, dominating, inconsiderate humans which continue to over-populate the planet than care about any other given animal.

  • ian.lester.71216 - 2012-12-16 21:41

    I partly agree. I don't think is a black / white thing, I think this is a humanity thing (or a lack thereof). I listen to the daily ads on the radio saying how every 13 hrs in SA a rhino is killed for it's horn. In the same 13 hrs, 20 mothers, fathers, sons and daughter (black and white) are murdered in SA for their cars, wallets, cellphones or less. Yet no plastic heads are mounted to the front of any cars in an expression of sympathy for the lost human lives and destroyed families. Every time I hear a "save the rhino" ad I can't help thinking where is the "save the people" ad. It seems we need to all re-calibrate our value system.

      helen.watermelon.16 - 2012-12-19 15:47

      Ian, animals have no voice and need protection from murderous poachers, you are comparing apples to oranges,so ridiculous

  • kingKanete - 2012-12-17 10:19

    look what you did now Ben. You've angered woolworth's clientele. As for the rhino's they will only be saved by killing off some poachers. Basic laws of competition.

  • dave.martin.750983 - 2012-12-18 12:02

    Good article Benjamin. The problem is most whiteys cannot see. They are too immersed in their worlds and think that their responsibility to create the country we all want requires them merely to rant about the government as the perceived source of all problems. The killing of rhino galvanises them into passionate action but the fact that babies die daily in the Transkei because they are forced to drink dirty water from streams merely elicits the usual "well if the government just... blah blah blah." As you read this statement, do you understand? Put even more simply: a fire breaks out in the zoo during a pre-school visit, and the (white) firemen rush past the burning toddlers to focus most of their attention on saving the zoo's rhino... And if that toddler was your child, you would be happy with that because the rhino was saved? There are many mothers every day who watch their infants die for no good reason, but no one even hears about them or thinks about them. 11% of mothers in our surrounding villages in the Transkei have lost 3 OR MORE babies to diarrhea. Think about that. Whitey, do you "feel" that fact or does it matter less because those babies are black and thus "the government's fault"?

      simon.voget - 2012-12-18 14:28

      Very well said.

  • simon.voget - 2012-12-18 14:33

    Ben Fogel says it as it is !! Love this article. Equally love the comments - 'rhinos will go extinct, people won't!'; or simply 'you racist idiot, rhinos are animals!' which seems to appeal to some kind of self-evidence I can't see. Pretty clear that you've hit a nerve with the average news24 reader. Keep up the good work.

      morgainne.duplessis - 2012-12-19 00:37

      Simon, that is unnecessary. Each to their own. If someone chooses to support the plight of the rhinos then it is their choice. If not then it is their choice as well. At least people are actually doing something. Judging by your dilly comment, you don't do anything. But again, each to their own.

  • morgainne.duplessis - 2012-12-18 22:34

    Benjamin Fogel, I doubt you even read these comments but nonetheless I will mark my say. Firstly, you are an idiot. How dare you stereotype so blatantly like that? Secondly, I support the rhino cause wholeheartedly because they have NO voice. I am an animal activist to the core because that is who I am as a person. Just as other people support 'human' causes because that is who they are. So don't come around here telling us who and what causes we should support. Thirdly, the rhino cause also emphasizes the corruption within our government. If the government cannot curb rhino poaching how on earth are they suppose to sort out the deep-rooted issues in the country? Lastly, just because you say that you are white doesn't make it fine for what you have said in this article. Race is not the issue here. You're a fool, so sit down.

  • Frank - 2012-12-19 08:40

    Oh hell, another libtard spewing his drivel. The issue is clear as I have yet encountered a rhino scaling fortified walls to torture, rape and murder innoccent people for a cell phone, while leaving the overflowing fridge unopened. So don't tell me these acts perpetrated by useless idiots living in shacks by choice, should be justified by rubbishing the plight of a magnificent animal tortured to death by more shack dwelling trash. I wasn't going to buy a red dildo for ny car but you sir, just convinced me to pass up on dumping unnecessary funds in some libtards tin to bernefit a shack dweller, in favour of the rhino campaign! Moegoe deluxe!

  • mike.milford.96 - 2012-12-19 15:20

    You Dam idiot to scared to publish my last Responce about dragging politics into something that is so far away from politics. Look at today's news 633 Rhino dead this year are you proud of that you wanker. And then you try to make it into a racial issue. !!!!!!!!

  • ndumogr - 2013-01-03 20:44

    Rhino is the tip of the ice berg, the east will take the lot if we take a different tack, clinical attitude

  • gavin.jarman3 - 2013-01-04 11:00

    Wow, you sure love sweeping,judgemental statements. Narcissism has many synonyms & I gather you mean it in the bad way,would POLITICAL narcissism change your view or attitude? Firstly, the rhino dilemma is impacted on throughout Africa & Asia; not just RSA. There are more people, other than " South African whites" actively involved with tackling this scourge, even in RSA. These people place their lives on the line daily & not drivel to paper.Funding is critical to assist these brave men & women WORLD-WIDE! I agree, no children should go to bed in shacks or hungry; yet you lay the blame at only one, biased door whilst "ignoring the gorilla in the room". (You should read that study, or do you just spout?). The failure of our incumbent, elected govt to provide services on every front led to strikes, poverty, deaths & what-not and you disingenuously lay the blame on the RSA whites shoulders! Now, if your slant was concern about the senseless rape, pillage and murders; deterioration of health facilities (especially those poverty-stricken victims), the carnage on our roads, the general lawlessness that many law-abiding citizens of ALL colours are subjected to, the 230 000 odd students that have to redo their matrics (creating further strain on our education capacity)AND maybe expressed concern at the Govt's inability to even protect our natural resources, THEN you may have written a thought provoking article. I am glad the Rhinose dildo pisses you off.Give money to the poor too!

      gavin.jarman3 - 2013-01-04 12:09

      Go to, see how ell you do...

  • TawwaTienie - 2013-01-04 13:04

    Are you walking with eye-flaps on? Do not walk away or around the real problems in South Africa, nor blame the rhino, poaching, apartheid, or poor people for the positions we are in. Our problems are corruption and crime by our government. Just look at our situation since 1994, suppose to be democratic. This is a joke. Our government is guilty of stealing our dignity, job opportunities and serviced houses. Who is running this country - criminals.

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