NEWS & ANALYSIS

Of pigs and politicians

Andrew Donaldson on Twiglet, Jixy Pixy, and Thandi Modise's animal farm

A FAMOUS GROUSE

HERE at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), our minds have been greatly exercised by the plight of pigs and other farmyard creatures, and not just because of National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise’s forthcoming animal cruelty case.

Last week, for example, we learnt of Twiglet, a “micro-pig” bought as a Christmas gift in 2017 for Elaine Edwards by her grandchildren. However, as Edwards soon discovered, there really is no such thing as a “micro-pig”. Twiglet, raised on Chinese takeaways, chocolate and porridge, quickly ballooned into a 190kg sow.

Much to Twiglet’s distress, Edwards passed away in August this year. It then took all of six firemen to get the distraught animal to an animal rehabilitation centre, where she is being cared for and put on a weight-loss programme. 

A spokesman there told a local newspaper: “She had a fantastic life [with Edwards] and ruled the roost. But it wasn’t really the right environment for her.”

I’ll say. Edwards lived in a first floor flat in Dinnington, Yorkshire. She let Twiglet, who never went outside and who had been house-trained to use a cat litter tray, sleep on a mattress on her bedroom floor where she played with fluffy toys.

Then came the Jixy Pixy saga. He’d been bought as a piglet from a farm in Devon by Alicia Day, an American living in London, who kept him in her Southall flat. 

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Unlike Twiglet, Jixy Pixy did get to go outside quite often. Day, a 31-year-old vegan, would take him on the Tube and regularly walked him around Ealing Broadway on a lead. As she told the Times: “He is even easier to walk than a dog. It was pretty crazy because there was constantly a crowd around the pig and the kids loved it.”

Unfortunately, Day’s landlord was not happy about all this and duly evicted them both. However, before she handed her pet over to officials with the RSPCA, Day took Jixy Pixy to a noodle bar for a farewell treat. 

“I thought I would let the pig have one more nice meal at Wagamama and we sat in the outdoor seating,” she said. “We shared the Tofu Pad Thai — he always bullies me into giving him half the food.”

Touching as all this may have been, local pig experts were not impressed. Fearful of more wannabe urban swineherds out there, they have been quick to point to guidelines on keeping the animals.

This being punctilious, over-regulated Britain, various licences are needed from bodies such as the Rural Payments Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Special permission is also needed to take pigs to the vet, and this must be done by truck as it’s illegal to transport them by car.

More practically, it has been pointed out that pigs must be able to express natural behaviours such as rooting and foraging and for this they need lots of land — a minimum area of 36 square metres for a single animal and at least half an acre for a pair.

Although they should not be kept in the home, they do need shelter at night and somewhere to shade them from the sun. They also need access to an outdoor wallow — the mud acts as a sunscreen. They do like to wander off, so a strong fence is another requirement as they must be kept from other animals.

Most importantly, pigs must eat. This is absolutely crucial. They require a specfic, strictly-enforced diet. In the UK, again unsurprisingly, it is even illegal to feed them waste food, including vegetable scraps, from the kitchen. So much, then, for tofu.

Thandi Modise’s pigs should have been so lucky. When SPCA officials visited her Modderfontein farm in the North West in 2014, they found more than 50 pig carcasses among the dead animals there. 

All had starved. Another 162 animals, which included chickens, geese, ducks and sheep, had to be put down because of their poor condition.

At the time, Modise blamed her farm manager for the carnage, but it was reported that the sole worker taking care of the place had left the animals to die as he and his family faced starvation themselves if they remained on the farm. 

After the National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute, advocate Gerrie Nel, head of AfriForum’s private prosecuting unit, launched a private case against Modise on behalf of the SPCA. The former North West premier’s trial is set down for March 24 to 26 next year.

Modise suspects underhanded parties — counter-revolutionaries, perhaps — may have contributed to her present difficulties and, after a preliminary hearing last month, uttered the sort of stuff that comes out of a boy cow.

Delays in proceedings, she told supporters at the Potchefstroom Magistrate’s Court, were intended to weaken her chances of a successful defence.

“They drag it until you know that you cannot afford lawyers and you have to stand by yourself,” she was quoted as saying. “It is deliberately being dragged out, but we come from Umkhonto [we Sizwe]. We were taught patience, discipline. So, that discipline is still there, it will persevere. We will conquer.”

Words, no doubt, that struck terror down on the farm. 

According to one report, Modise went on to thank supporters for turning up, some of whom were wearing MK military regalia. News 24 was however apparently not able to establish whether Carl Niehaus, the camouflaged pimpernel, was present. As readers of the Grouse are well aware, Niehaus is a master of disguise and often invisible to the naked eye.

But there was talk among the comrades that Modise’s prosecution was “based on patriarchy”. One MK veteran and former political prisoner, the Reverend Raymond Elisha, told journalists:

“These charges are trumped up … and the fact that a black woman cannot be a farmer. They are politically directed and influenced. We know that she is innocent and we know there were shenanigans that went on on that farm because of political influence, and that there were people who wanted the farm and wanted to pressurise her to leave.” (sic)

Orwell no fine, then. 

Elsewhere in the menagerie, it has been reported that lions and cheetahs are included among the 33 wild species that now fall under the recently amended Animal Improvement Act, a law that allows the selective breeding of stock “to increase production or performance”.

In other words, and as far as government is concerned, these wild animals are now considered farm livestock, a situation that came about, according to the Times of London, after a request from breeding societies — and without public consultation.

There is perhaps nothing new in this. Animals have for years been cross-bred to produce unusual colour variants and other physical properties.

Previously, though, the only wild animal listed under the act was the ostrich. Farmers had in the past attempted breeding programmes to improve feather production but with no results other than causing reproductive problems in the birds.

Listing lions and other wild animals could also result in unexpected consequences, according to Audrey Delsink, of Humane Society International Africa. She told the Times:

 “How can we categorise species such as lions and rhinos as threatened or protected … and then list them as farm animals and manage them in the same way as livestock? It seems there is a conflict of interest within the government departments.”

Wild animals in national and private game parks would continue to enjoy protection from breeding manipulation by biodiversity laws but those held captive as “farm animals” would not — which raises concerns of what the reclassification would entail for the South African canned hunting industry.

Here, truly, is an unspeakable business. South Africa has some 200 game farms with an estimated 12 000 lions, many of them held in appalling conditions. This is four times the number of lion in the wild. 

Other wild animals put out to pasture, as it were, in terms of the Department of Agriculture’s new laws include black and white rhino, zebra, giraffes and a large number of antelope, including the springbok. Certain dog breeds have also been included. Some of them, like pugs, which are bred to be deformed, already suffer as a result of breeding programmes.

It is understandable that we should concern ourselves with the welfare of animals. It is for this very reason, the pro-hunting lobby suggests, that we should at least recognise some of their concerns. 

They are a beleaguered lot, and they perhaps yearn long for a simpler, earlier age. Or at least the days before social media, and their crazed clients weren’t posting selfies with dead giraffes all over Facebook and outraging bunny-huggers.

Last month, for example, it was announced that Britain plans to ban the importation of hunting trophies to the UK. This meant little to the common folk on the 19 bus from Islington, other than yet another good old-fashioned swipe at the toffs.

But it infuriated local conservationists, academics, game farmers and government officials, and they suggested that the UK ministers responsible for this nonsense get their sorry backsides down to southern Africa and there take note of the successful rewilding programmes that their proposed legislation now threatens.

Simply put, the argument went, this was yet another case of people who don’t have the resources telling people who do how best to manage them. The “global north” picking on the “global south”. Led by a bunch of celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and his Hollywood friends. (I mean, how dare they even care?)

There is, admittedly, a great deal of posturing. Which rather does allow the canned lion-killers an opening with which to peddle their specious claim that a “well-regulated” trophy hunting business is no worse than killing cattle, sheep or pigs for domestic food consumption.

That’s nonsense, of course. We don’t shoot our farm animals with crossbow bolts and then chill out with a few frosted lagers while paid trackers follow the blood spoor through the bush to finally despatch the suffering creatures hours later. 

Maybe there really is a moral dilemma here. But perhaps Thandi Modise can look into the matter. It’s entirely possible that she can come up with a solution that will put our minds at rest.