Working towards a more compassionate world through education and advocacy
Increasing our Compassionate Footprint
By Louise van der Merwe
My daughter Ivanka is the youngest of my three children. She was just a baby on my hip when we moved to a small-holding outside Cape Town. We bought some hens from Vredebest Poultry Farm in Paarl as part of a family dream to lead a rural life of self-sufficiency. To my shock and dismay, the hens emerged from their holding crate minus their beaks.
We took Vredebest to court and the Paarl magistrate ruled that when buying a hen one expects to buy a ‘whole’ hen, not a mutilated hen. He ruled that Vredebest should take back the hens – but, by that time, we had bonded with our hens and wouldn’t part with them. It was this single incident that launched me into what would become a driving force throughout the rest of my life – seeking some kind of justice for the inhabitants of earth who manifest in shapes other than human form.
Even as a kid, it was obvious to me that while we might look different, I shared a whole gamut of emotions with many other forms of life. I thought that being cruel to an animal was an aberration of normal human behaviour. Like the day my father and brother came home, pellet guns in hand, proudly dangling a little dead bird by its leg and my mother said ‘What about the babies left in the nest?’
It was a rude awakening to at last accept the fact, years later, that ‘normal’ behaviour is the callous use and abuse of animals the world over in the name of human benefit.
My daughter, Ivanka (that’s her hand linked with another hand on Page 11) , is 27 years old now. In these intervening years I discovered the monumental lie in the prevailing human misconception that... if you care about animal well-being, you obviously don’t care about the suffering of humans. Of course, the opposite is true. How we treat those who are at our mercy is the exact reflection of who we are as humans in all spheres of our lives.
Somehow, we lost our way. Overwhelmed by our own fears of failure, of the unknown, of finding our place in the world, we have compensated over the centuries by constructing the tenuous narrative of our own superiority, justifying it over and over until it has become received wisdom. Herein lies the fiction that strength is proven in the ability to take away and not to give.
Ours has been an evolution of dislocation, pushing all other creatures as far away from us as possible, beyond all recognition that within each one beats a heart, a mind and a soul not unlike our own. The factory farming industry stands testament to this.
Perhaps the most significant step forward in recent years is the emerging change in terminology when we refer to the lives of those not shaped like ourselves. In academic circles at least, we hear less and less about animals and more and more about non-humans. Language is a powerful tool. To see this, we need only look back on the changing use of words over the past few decades in the drive to rid our vocabulary of prejudice. When the implication of this emerging terminology is fully understood by society, our underlying fear and prejudice against those who manifest in different forms, will be exposed. We will understand, at last, that it is not an insult to be compared to an animal.
And maybe then we will stop for a second, take a breath and realise it is the breath of life we share with so many others. That all life is precious, that all life matters, that strength is not defined by what we take away, but by what we add, what we give. Maybe then at last we will have found our place in the world, and be worthy of it.
The Humane Education Trust . PO Box 825 . Somerset West 7129 RSA . International: +27 21 852 8160 . Tel: 021 852 8160 . Fax: 021 4131297
Louise van der Merwe
Founder and Editor of Animal Voice, Founder and Managing Trustee of The Humane Education Trust and Representative in South Africa for the international NGO Compassion in World Farming.
Trustee: The Humane Education Trust. Tony’s document on Climate Change was submitted to the Paris Crimes Against Nature Tribunal
Graphic Artist - Website, Social Media, Online Magazine, Presentation material.