The Story of a South African Farm

2014-07-20 20:49

It has been nearly two weeks since the news of Thandi Modise’s farm of horrors originally broke. The Sunday Independent revealed gruesome details of how Modise’s mismanaged farm stock had to eat each other in order to survive. The incident made for grim viewing as pictures surfaced of emaciated animals eating the festering, rotting, carcasses of others.

The way in which the incident was used by Modise’s critics and supporters was interesting, to say the least.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has now threatened to table a motion of no confidence against Modise, should she fail to make herself available for a parliamentary inquiry set up to investigate the farm deaths. They were one of the first political parties to react, coming out strongly against her.

Not to be outdone, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also aimed a harsh rebuke at Modise. EFF Leader, Julius Malema, stated that Modise had not only massacred the people at Marikana, but she had brought death to the pigs too.

The African National Congress (ANC) weighed in and forcefully rejected the attacks against Modise. ANC Chief Whip, Stone Sizani, stated that the deaths of Modise’s animals was being politicised. In his estimation, the attacks against Modise, from the DA in particular, were unnecessarily political and racialised: this incident was being used to demonise black farmers and undermine the legitimacy of land reform policy.

Typically, an incident of what may have been considered to be ordinary farming mismanagement – an occurrence which happens all around the world – was given a uniquely South African twist. To observe this episode from abroad and watch the South African political class, and society more generally, react to this incident as they did goes a long way to show how something like the death of animals can still bring out well-hidden but worrying prejudices we may have.

On the one hand, literally smelling blood, people have used this to damage Modise. They have insinuated that her lack of proper care for animal life somehow affects her abilities as a politician. On the other, her defenders have suggested that this situation is unfairly being used as the pin-up for all that has gone wrong with race-based transformation in the agricultural sector.

The truth is this: neither is correct. While it is deplorable that Modise’s farmworkers allowed animals to die, it is difficult to believe that she is personally responsible. She is responsible for their deaths but indirectly at best. Similarly, this may point to a a problem that beneficiary farmers may experience, but Modise is not the generalisation of all new black farmers. And those who wish to criticise her for her failings as a manager have every right to do so. Her race is neither an indictment, nor is it a defence.

Our political leaders should do more than resort to easy politicking. This should especially be the case when it arises from attributing blame for unnecessary death. Even the death of animals.

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