Creation and rights for people and animals

Creation and rights for people and animals

A philosophical and religious argument to mark the 1st anniversary of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si               

18 June 2016

Beulah Thumbadoo

The Catholic Church is open to dialogue with philosophical thought; this has enabled her to produce various syntheses between faith and reason. The development of the Church’s social teaching represents such a synthesis with regard to social issues; this teaching is called to be enriched by taking up new challenges. (Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si, p. 46)

The treatment of factory farmed animals everywhere on earth could easily be one challenge that Pope Francis had in mind. It is comparable to the conditions the majority of the South African population had to endure under apartheid. There was restriction of movement (the dompas); gross violation of humane living conditions (The Group Areas Act and restriction to homelands); and the imposition of unnatural lifestyles (migrant labour) to note a few. Even though some find it difficult to believe, we still hear testimony from some white South Africans that they had no idea the extent to which black people’s rights and freedoms were being violated and constrained during apartheid. I believe this state of unawareness to be true of both religious communities and secular society in relation to the plight of the animals consumed today. Nevertheless, this paper does not set out to convince the reader to become vegan or vegetarian despite the strong health and other benefits to the planet of doing so. It is written with the hope that your beliefs on who God and man intended to have rights might be extended and to protect your rights as a consumer: so you are alert to not being complicit in rights violations which might be comparable to those inflicted during apartheid.

Rights are the sort of entity one wants to invoke when one feels personally violated. It might not be natural for everyone to think about how the rights of other people are being violated, but historically there are always people who tend to extend themselves in this way: white people who fought against slavery and apartheid and straight people who align with the struggles and rights of the LGBTI community. Che Guevara is an icon in part because of statements like: Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary. (

The Pope’s Encyclical and the consciences of many faith-based and atheist people the globe over, asks that we go beyond feeling just the injustices committed against people, to acting to end the injustices that we inflict on the planet and on animals too.

Wits Lecturer Kai Horsthemke in The Moral Status and Rights of Animals (2010: 244) suggests that, “An evolutionary analysis of the recognition of rights might focus [...] on the consideration that evolution has undermined our belief that human beings are ‘special’*…+ and thereby pave the way for the recognition of the moral rights also of others who are not human.” While the Judeo Christian tradition is a major foundation for humankind’s claim to being special – because we are special to the God of Abraham who sought so hard to be in relationship with us – it is important to note that the Old Testament (OT) God referenced animals with as much reverence and respect as He did people (when He had not lost patience with us) and most often with far more attention to detail. Even a cursory reading of the first books of the Bible with detailed specifications on animal offerings and ample references to animals provides a strong basis from which to draw conclusions about how anguished and angry the OT God would be with industrial intensive factory farming practices which makes mass and excessive consumption of all meat possible. This short analysis cannot do justice to the myriad ways factory farming would be contrary to the message of love of the New Testament. However, it does argue that the struggle for animal emancipation from suffering - a word which appears 175 times in Laudato Si, take its rightful place within a set of interrelated struggles for dignity and freedom and thus strengthens the case for animals to acquire the same basic rights as humans from a Judeo Christian perspective.

The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). (Laudato Si, p. 48)

Horsthemke shows how rights are the sort of entities that in and of themselves draw animals under the banner of their protection. He puts it this way: “I do not pretend to be able to prove that animals have rights. What I think can be shown, however, is that if there are any rights, that is to say, if rights ‘exist’, in the sense of being attributable to humans, then they cannot plausibly be withheld from animals” (p. 247). This analysis underscores the belief that the differences between humans and animals are not morally relevant to their suffering. Since this distinction might be obscure, let me try to clarify. Horsthemke is not claiming to be able to prove that animals have rights. As much as there can be no argument about the value of rights, I do not believe that human beings ‘have’ rights because they are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in the South African Constitution. Rights are legal constructs and only as real as the efficacy of the justice system and the extent to which it is protected and extended by the citizenry in any given country.

However, if rights can be made to exist and operate on behalf of human beings, then they can be made to exist and operate on behalf of animals especially in relation to suffering since the differences between humans and animals cannot be morally relevant to their suffering to people of conscience. People who support this view are not asking for animals to have the sorts of rights attributable to humankind, but we are voting for animals to be freed from lifetimes of oppression and suffering for God’s sake, for their own sakes and because of the karmic implications of such ongoing subjugation for us.

Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. (Laudato Si, p. 30)

Rights discourse attempts to enshrine certain notions as sacred and worthy of protection. Amongst these notions is dignity, the freedom to express the purposes for which one is born, and according to Horsthemke, Thomas Young and John Lawrence revived philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s notion of the possibility of animal rights because they argued that, “’Life, intelligence, and sentience necessarily imply rights’, a verdict they took to apply to humans and non-humans alike” (p. 248). Some people believe that animals are moral subjects deserving of rights and many others have written tomes to justify why they are not candidates for the same kind of moral consideration humankind deserves.

Eco-theologian Thomas Berry’s description of the earth community’s “right” to exist is both simple and radical by comparison. Referring to rights in their original (as opposed to legal) sense, Berry equates the having of rights with existence – ‘rights originate where existence originates’ and every member of the Earth Community has the right to be, the right to inhabit and the right to fulfil its role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth Community. The Christian might easily replace the word ‘existence’ with ‘creation’ in this sentence and mean exactly the same thing. Rights originated with Creation and all of creation is entitled to rights, if one part is.

According to Berry, then, just ‘being’ should earn one rights. Evolving over millennia could earn one protection as part of a bio-community, but I am not sure that existence on its own earns rights.

“The idea of rights seems to draw its strength from the existence of adverse conditions [...] moral rights almost always precede institutional rights [emphasis mine]. Once instituted, rights’ function as [...] protective measures in order to prevent previously dominant predicaments from once again becoming the norm” (Horsthemke 2010: 317). In other words rights also exist to prevent humankind from falling back into bigoted practices.

Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. (Laudato Si, p. 151)

In 2016 and into the foreseeable future, the “adverse conditions” mentioned above and which take the form of cruel practices are the daily lot of both people and animals alike. If suffering can be measured in volume, there is more suffering taking place now than ever before because of human population explosion and animal volumes being factory farmed to feed a small percentage of them. ‘Who’ or ‘what’ is doing the suffering should be of little significance to people of conscience and of faith. That we are complicit in supporting extreme suffering presents a moral challenge. While it is understandable to identify more with one’s own grouping or species, it is both un-Christian and unconscionable to deliberately cause lifelong suffering (oppression) to any other group or species. More so if one is inspired by a Pope who works across God’s creation for social justice.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion. (Laudato Si, p. 56)




A writing challenge for South African men

The 60th anniversary of the August 9 1956 Women’s March on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the extension of passes to women by the apartheid regime will be celebrated throughout South Africa this year.  Many women-focused cultural and political events are being planned to mark the contribution of South African women to our struggle for liberation.

This call for essays is but one decisive way to bring the considered voices of men into the mix.

Motivation: Ten years ago Beulah Thumbadoo & Associates put together a book, the face of the spirit, illuminating a century of essays by South African women for the Department of Arts and Culture, SA.  To mark the 60th anniversary we would like to hear from men; any and as many South African men as are willing to take part.

Theme: The struggles of men with women

So what should you write about? Anything you believe will make a difference; that will add to our understanding of you. What do you find easy to celebrate?  What do you find difficult to express?  What keeps you motivated or joyful?  What frustrates you? What is weighing on your heart or mind right now?  Do you have something you’d like to say to your grandmother, mother, a former wife, a current partner, a sister, an aunt, your daughter, or a former teacher? Write to the women in your life and tell them whatever you think might help us all to understand each other better and curtail the polarity between us. You might need to dig deep and go further than you manage to through the spoken word.  But that is the wonder of writing.

The essays that best portray the personal concerns, hopes and desires of South African men – and have the judges wanting every South African to read them in the interests of nation building – will be shortlisted, and our intention is that a selection of the best essays will be published in a book with the working title Words left unspoken.

Pledge: In the spirit of active citizenry and self-reliance, we are launching this call for essays without any funding or organizational support.  Depending on the response, it is our intention to secure a sponsor to award outstanding essays and support their publishing and distribution.

Credential: Beulah Thumbadoo & Associates was responsible for a short story competition that spanned 18 years, so your writing will be in safe hands. Please google the BTA/Anglo Platinum short story competition to track how an adult literacy project became the most lucrative writing competition on the African continent.

Please visit our website for more background on our work to promote literacy, reading and writing.

Submissions of no more than 2 000 words should be e-mailed to before or by 1st July 2016.

If Music Be the Food of Love

If Music Be the Food of Love, hit skip, stop or fast forward?

Duke Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die. [William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3 Duke Orsino of Illyria, presiding over the merry, mixed-up world of Twelfth Night, opens the play with these festive sentiments, soured though they be by the affected airs of the melancholic lover.]

Fast forward to Facebook 21st November 2015

Tamara Sutila: ‘With all due respect to those going through the heartache of relationship break-up or still living in its shadows, at some point you have to say ‘goodbye’ to your past instead of ‘hello’. I can’t help listening to Adele’s new smash single Hello and getting a bit irritated…”Hello, it’s me, I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet, To go over everything, They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but I ain’t done much healing.” Really, after 4 years?!

So here’s the thing. I happen to have given this topic some thought recently. And not just thought right… but feeling too. You have to feel this topic. That’s what music does. That’s probably why it is such a blessing because it creates a pathway via which blocked emotions and unexpressed feelings might be freed from the body. If you sing or dance that is. Over these past few months all of the strangest lyrics started to make sense and hold meaning for me. I swear I missed most of the feelings they were ‘meant’ to evoke when I heard them all the first time around, whether it was several decades ago or more recently and I also only just discovered that more than 90% of music plays on one’s emotions. I’d missed this too – moved as I was in my youth by Bob Marley’s War, Osibisa’s Sunshine Day and Ringo Starr’s It don’t come easy. These songs were arguably about ‘bigger issues’ than romantic love, respectively: race based oppression; doing what one can to build harmony in the world and how your smile might contribute; forgetting about the past and all your sorrows and about how peace is within your reach if you’re big enough to take and how ‘trust’ is the requirement.

So I think that Sutila is on to something here. She is raising something much deeper and more important than revisiting the nostalgia of a past relationship. She is touching on how different people bounce back after any sort of difficult period in their lives. And what I think she might be missing – which is why her post has hit so many raw nerves – is that different people feel and process things differently AND some people ‘like’ or ‘need’ to take longer and these people irritate the one’s that bounce back more quickly. For the sake of short hand let’s label the two different group Gloomy and Bouncy and hope that most people exist somewhere in the middle on the continuum between them, to keep the world going round.

There are two points I would like to make. One is that if you belong to either group you are unlikely to understand the other unless you are hugely empathic. Gloomies are likely to think Bouncies superficial and Bouncies find the Gloomies heavy going as illustrated by the ‘enough already’ tone of Sutila’s question. What both fail to understand is that there are a complex set of dynamics that cause each to react in this way and no amount of sharing or explaining or describing why we react so differently will bridge this divide. And this period of recovery or healing may or may not relate just to getting over romantic break ups. Some childhoods were so bad that they wire one for blocking out and getting up and getting on with stuff and making the most of life and other childhoods were so good that they wire you to behave in exactly the same way because you are always expecting good and better experiences around the next corner, so you don’t dwell for long on anything that happens to you. Childhood is of course just one influence.

What matters is to learn and accept that what works for some will not work for others – or in the words of Roman poet Lucretius, One man’s meat is another man’s poison. It is of course from our differences and disagreements that we learn the most about acceptance but this doesn’t imply that we need to accept everyone’s views or remain placid. This is why I am so happy with the prospect of a part time coaching career. It separates the people who don’t want to make necessary changes in their lives from those from those who do. Coaching is about willing self-observation and wanting to get unstuck and change patterns and do things differently to bring about a different result. It isn’t about trying to understand why those patterns came about in the first place which is a backward looking trajectory.

The second point I want to make interests me far more and goes to the heart of what Sutila and Duke Orsino raise. I want to pose it as a question? Do the songs that make us look backward; remember the rawness of love and sex and emotion and ‘uniqueness’ of connection we felt with that ‘one’ person, do us any good? Is it helpful and healthy to revisit those emotions or have them dredged up in all manner of clever prose – lyrics – that have us going round and round in circles about the possibility that he or she might have been our one true love, entrenching the ’feeling’ that no other person will ever make you feel that way?

Toni Braxton’s Breathe Again is a good illustration: If I never feel you in my arms again; if I never feel your tender kiss again and so it goes… Then I shall never breathe, Breathe again? Really? And far more diabolical if the love you feel does not always feel good, Macy Gray’s Sweet Baby will make you stay anyway: Many times I’ve been told that I should go but they don’t know what we have baby; They may not see the love in you, but love I do; And I’ll stay right here […] Sugar wishes don’t change what it is or how it feels in the bad times; for whatever he is he is mine; all the time and we’ll get by… You should hear the music on this track – it’s compelling as it keeps turning in and around on itself blaming life for the craziness not the two people and justifying staying always and forever.

This is the multi-billion dollar industry that trades on regurgitating and reliving the emotions that have not always served us best that this discussion should consider. For sure, some of them lead to great creativity and yes it is love; romantic love that gives the world its edge and its wonder but it’s the stock market that makes the world go round. Or if you see through that, then you know it’s the configuration of our Universe, sun, moon and stars that do. And good friends, simple pleasures, gentleness, kindness and so on. But sometimes some of us do need to snap out of it too, in our own best interests. So thank goodness for Anastasia, Diana Ross and of course Gloria Gaynor amongst many other who imparted let me out this misery; get out my life why don’t you and I will survive, to Bouncies and Gloomies alike to balance the song books on love.

Think twice before you buy Adele or anybody else who may make you melancholy this Christmas. And be of good cheer!


The Year of the Horse

When I started work on a professional website with a personal touch in 2014, it was one of many significant steps I knew needed to be taken to pull myself out of what felt at the time like a self-defeating trajectory of seeking ‘formal employment’ in ‘traditional contexts’ while doubting that there was any specific job that would benefit from and put my particular work experiences to good use.  I realise with hindsight that this website showcases work that is testimony to two indisputable characteristics about the way I work. Mostly I need to fly solo in the thinking through and execution of a project. That is simply how I work best. I march to the tune of a very particular drummer. And, I thrive when I can trust a supportive and constructively critical guiding presence overseeing the overall project. I have sometimes been able to work effectively with a ‘right hand’ – most notably Botlhale Nong, Vanessa Maren, Stephanie Bosch Santana and Rita Rai and amongst their many wonderful talents was a shared ability to build on and expand the steps we determined would lead to the realization of the dream.

As soon as my website went live in June, I was asked to help out on a part time basis to convene a conference that would inspire donor organisations to reconsider the myriad struggles people in Higher Education Institutions confront to actualize ‘transformation’ in SA. This was my second break (the first being with Common Purpose in 2013) and I imagined that more consultancy work would now start to flow in and I would re-establish Beulah Thumbadoo & Associates in the Western Cape and flourish as I had in Johannesburg.

I did not expect to be approached to consider the role of Project Manager of Education Innovations – the Southern African hub of the Centre for Education Innovations situated at the Bertha Centre in August and even though I went through the motions in earnest, I was caught off guard to be offered the position. My gut reaction was not to jump ship on the social justice philanthropy symposium but to attempt to do both pieces of work if I was allowed.  And I was.

This is one explanation for why I never returned to my website to write another blog or update the songs or virtues pages, or say anything on FB or in short why I have fallen off the radar for a while. I have been galloping like the Horse that 2014 was with no time to tell the tale and just as I had made peace with two completely different jobs on two different campuses of UCT reporting to two different ‘bosses’, one of them decided the Year of the Horse needed to throw up an extra thrill as it approached the finishing line. Very much like when you’ve accepted that the race will be won by either of two contenders only to see the third which you might have had on your radar for future bets, pulling in from the rear to reduce the others to highly respectful runners up.

I hope this captures something of how I have come to feel about being appointed Philippi Animator – (Animateur in French – to give shape or life to) within the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It reminds me of a piece of advice Ashoka Fellow Charles Maisel once offered me when he described his fascination and satisfaction with being a surfer. It’s not any wave that will get you the ride you’re looking for; it’s the right one.  And this one might be right for me for some of the reasons already captured a year ago on this site.

So this is a long overdue check in to explain my absence. I hope to write more frequently this year but I wanted visitors to this website to know that for now my hands are full and I am certain that the skills I pick up working to establish a Campus of the University of Cape Town in Philippi will be invaluable to the work I undertake in the future.

To have once been black is worth more than it is to be merely human today

I haven’t always been a Sunday newspaper reader but am quite enjoying this newfound discipline to occupy Sundays now that I have moved to the Cape and every single day with good weather shouts out to you to take a hike or admire the beauty or go here or there. No! There is work to be done and we can’t always be out there catching the sun and in my case the other challenging things that come with it.

This week the Sunday Times grabbed my attention.  John Pilger – The ANC has betrayed SA and Njabulo Ndebele – It’s time to shed ‘blackness’ in particular caught my attention and it is a response to the latter that I feel most drawn to make, although Mthombothi on ‘where are the new ideas’ (I have a few) is also tempting.  In fact, let me just put it all out there – the article on teeth grinding (to which I am a newcomer), the article on Abba (of which I am an old fan) and the Party People page were all well worth the detour to the local Spar. So thank you Sunday Times for an edition I actually what’s-apped people in Joburg and Durban to buy.

But Back to Black and I think there are issues that Ndebele raises that must surely resonate with many South Africans.  As a teenager I was immersed in the teachings of Black Consciousness and BC leaders through family in a way that relatively few so called Indians in Durban were in the 70s and 80s. Ndebele talks about finding one’s place in the world. All of us have to do this all the time and the political, social and economic heritage of South Africans makes this a fraught quest. I lived in Johannesburg for 23 years and not once in all of that time did my blackness ever come into question in any way that was memorable.  During this time I was only once asked if I was Indian and on that occasion I was in Brazil and it was more appropriate to point out that I was in fact African and once the ‘de Sud’ or South was out of the bag then the smiling response was ‘Oh, Mandela, Nelson Mandela.’  I would then bask in the glory of our global icon, feel the comfort of the rainbow and not feel forced to interrogate my labelling of myself any further.  Move to the Western Cape and it’s a different story altogether.

Not quite two years in and it is a question I have had to confront repeatedly from random strangers and my clumsy, confused sounding responses are fast eroding the confidence I once felt in my blackness. Take the example of the sweet little old lady who won’t let me sit next to her because she is saving two seats for family members. I smile and say I’m happy to sit in the row behind but she attempts to smooth over the rebuff by asking if I am Indian.  She herself looked pretty Indian and all she was trying to do was to establish something common between us. Places of worship are meant to provide a more embracing space for belonging. How ‘true’ to myself or my political heritage would I have been if I had said no I’m black. In a different setting perhaps I would have launched into my standard response but in that instant, it seemed petty. Her first port of call in identifying with me was via my physical attributes not my well-considered and long clung to political belief that I am black.  I have invested so much, for so long in being black that I find it incredibly difficult to respond comfortably in the affirmative to Indian.  Indians live in India. And if South Africa was a simple country or even had a name as all other countries do then I would be that.  An Azanian. A Zyborgian. Since we continue to see fit to call ourselves the south part of a continent then I am a South African.  But this has never been enough.  I am a black South African. Ndebele writes about his perceptions of the South African “black” galloping downhill especially over the past 5 years.  If this is true then it is not the “black” that I and many others have aspired to be through the philosophy of black consciousness and it is a great pity that more so called ‘blacks’ have not managed to free their minds sufficiently to take up his challenge: ‘It is time that the South African “black” began to appreciate the value of aspiring towards the universal […] So am I “black”? I once was but no more.  Am I an “African”? Yes but with qualification… Am I a “human being”? Resoundingly, yes!’ 

I wish that my response to being a “human being” could come from the strong place of affirmation and certainty his does. But for me there just isn’t enough guaranteed goodness or substance to recommend being a human being.  Did I mention that I had skipped straight through to Section 2 of the paper in a determined effort to avoid the Tambo, Pistorius and Pascoe articles on page 1?  Being a “human being” or even a citizen for that matter is by no means the conclusion of the liberation journey. Human beings are easily tempted and gravely fallible creatures. So we need qualifiers like ‘humane’ or ‘responsible’ or ‘compassionate’ or ‘decent’ to preface the entity we aspire to be. From this point of view, being Black was for me a far more positive and motivating thing to be because I was relinquishing claim to the heritage of my ancestry in order to identify with and belong amongst the displaced majority of which I was a part in the land of my birth. Black consciousness and a unified oppressed class was the real threat to the apartheid regime and denouncing tribal association for the sake of unity made good political sense.

What would make good political sense 20 years into democracy? To recognize and acknowledge that the world is a very different place today and that we need to educate ourselves to see our particular challenges as a nation within the context of things universal. I attended the first press junket organized by Tozie Zokufa of the Humane Society International (HSI) last week. There were many in that gathering who would call themselves anti-speciesist and a great deal of tolerance was extended between the likes of ‘happy pig’ farmers and vegans.  Perhaps we should give up National Braai Day and reconsider what National Heritage Day should actually be about instead of simply aspiring to oppress the next voiceless entity in the pecking order. Ndebele has prompted us – each and every one of us South Africans – to ‘aspire toward the universal’.  Is there a fallacy you are clinging to that no longer serves South Africa and prevents us from moving forward? For each of us what needs to be released will be different.  If you don’t know where to start maybe take the advice of Alice Walker:

“It is time to circle. I advise that everyone […] call up between seven and eleven of your staunchest, smartest and most thoughtful friends, and that you create of yourselves a circle that meets once a month in each other’s homes. There, in the safety and privacy of that sacred space, enter thoroughly into dialogue about what you wish for and will work for in your country.”

Maybe this is how we find our place in the world.