Thandi Modise's animal farm

Andrew Donaldson on the NCOP chairperson's cruelly neglected swine

THERE was something of a cattle stampede this week as commentators raced to get their hands on a copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm in the aftermath of the reports on the horrific discoveries at the North West farm belonging to National Council of the Provinces chair Thandi Modise. 

The famous quote is, of course, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Several newspaper columnists helped themselves to that gem.

They ignored, I felt, the better one: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." 

That, in my opinion, spoke volumes about the corruptible nature of power - this was, you'll remember, Orwell's attack on Joseph Stalin - although I do think a strong case for libel could be made on behalf of the pigs.

Modise's neglected swine, however, suffered a far worse fate than those in Orwell's story, and were all destroyed after it was discovered that they had resorted to cannibalism to survive - with pigs feeding on other dead pigs and drinking their own urine.

Modise did herself no favours when she told the Sunday Independent, "I am not a farmer. I am trying to farm. I am learning. But if you are a woman and you are learning you are not allowed to make mistakes." Later, she told City Press, "I am saddened by the abandonment and trauma the livestock suffered after workers employed on the farm unceremoniously left without notice. The suffering the animals endured does not compare to the financial loss I suffered."

Which is probably true. On Friday the Mail & Guardian reported that Modise's neighbours could hear her starving pigs screaming two weeks before they were discovered. The newspaper added that, according to the SPCA and "a well-informed veterinary source", they had been underfed for longer than a fortnight. Could any kind of financial loss incurred by Modise be compared to such suffering?

The ruling party has sprung to Modise's defence and their statement on the matter, perhaps predictably, claimed that it was "appalled by attempts by formations such as the DA to opportunistically use this incident to discredit the land reform programme and to project black farming as inherently a failure".

With the warped logic and abuse of language that would have given even Orwell much food for thought, the ANC suggested there were even "established farmers" who had made mistakes that placed "the health of their livestock, the productivity of their farms and their profits at great risk" but there was no "media spectacle and political posturing" where these farmers were concerned.

"Any hurt directed at animals can never be justified," it went on. "However, for the DA to wage a campaign of this nature while it had previously maintained a deafening silence when acts of brutality were committed against human beings at farms, such as abuse of farmworkers and killings of black people apparently mistaken for baboons, screams of obscene hypocrisy and racism."

Now we're getting to the heart of the matter - hypocrisy. 

Modise, it turns out, was never learning to farm. She was, instead, a farm owner who left its running to a manager who just happened to be her former lover, one Abdul Mogale, an ANC councillor for the Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality.

However, Mogale's interest in agriculture ended once the relationship was over - in the words of that annual public service announcement, "A farm is not just for Christmas" - and his supervisory visits trailed off, leaving the place to collapse into ruin. 

Which brings us to ANC concerns about the abuse of farmworkers. 

According to reports, Modise's labourers were paid as little as R25 a day. One source told The Times that when she bought the farm in March 2012, with a Land Bank loan of at least R4.9m, Modise offered to pay them R40 a day. "They reportedly turned down the offer because their previous employer had paid R120 a day," the newspaper said. 

Another source told the M&G that one of Modise's workers came to beg for maize porridge last month after being hired in May and not receiving his wages.

This has naturally all been vigorously denied. But not in a greatly convincing manner.

The law can be harsh when it comes to not feeding pigs. If my understanding of the Animal Protection Act is correct, there are provisions for substantial fines and lengthy prison sentences.

In the old days they'd throw in a whipping as well. There are - inevitably - those who'd argue that the floggings should be brought back. But I won't go there.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.

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