Deconstructing hierarchies in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa: Employing animal studies perspectives in Athol Fugard's "Tsotsi" and Lisa Fugard's "Skinner's Drift"
Till, Kelsey Marie Ellen
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From ancient Greece to ancient Rome and the rise of Christianity, into the Renaissance and the formation of animal cruelty laws in Britain in the 19 th century, animals' rights, subjectivity, and welfare are consistently contested by philosophers. Are animals subjects or mere objects? Do animals have rights? Do animals exist within our moral sphere? If so, which animals do, or do they all? Do animals possess reason, language, consciousness, or sentience? What divides animals from humans, if exists any such divide? Why should we even begin to think about issues regarding animals when the sphere of humanity has so many pressing problems? What is intriguing in the debate surrounding human-animal relations is that many of these questions continue to arise and are never fully quelled. While some ideas have been quite rampantly debunked, there are still many who utilize the same rhetorical strategies to attack animals and continue with their pervasive humanism. Also, those in power tend to employ similar tactics in their debasement of human Others, in particular women and people of color. Animal rights philosophers, such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan, argue that at least some animals are owed moral rights, and support the complete abolishment of industries that use animals' bodies, such as the meat industry and the fur industry, as well as eliminating animal experimentation. Other theorists, including Jacques Derrida, Stacy Alaimo, Donna Haraway, and Cary Wolfe, approach the issue from a posthumanism, animal studies perspective. While the latter theorists are much more radical in their thinking, I will utilize primarily their approach to animals to further my argument that animals do have subjectivity, and that we ourselves are inherently animal. However, my primary aim is to propose a new reading strategy when analyzing Tsotsi by Athol Fugard (set during apartheid and the Group Areas Act of 1950) and Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard (set primarily in post-apartheid South Africa, during the dawning of the “New South Africa” and the initial visits by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). In this strategy, the consideration of animality versus humanity offers up new perspectives that transform the reading of texts that are focused on kinds of sexual and racial alterity. I have selected these two texts to employ this reading strategy with because of their engagement with forms of alterity that have much to benefit from this kind of analysis. None of the critical scholarship to date on either of these South African texts has extensively, or even remotely, addressed the topic of animals and/or posthumanism. The analysis of gender violence is also lacking, in particular with regards to Tsotsi. Perhaps part of the reason for the lack of scholarship in these areas is that there is not much research on these texts to begin with; both are lesser-known works in the realm of South African literature. Skinner's Drift is a more recent novel, and Athol Fugard, who wrote Tsotsi, is known primarily for his work as a playwright as compared with this one novel that he wrote. In addition, I would argue that the criticism tends to come from a blatantly humanistic perspective when approaching either text, as these texts are largely humanistic in themselves. From my initial readings of the novels, I was mostly struck by a few recurring motifs: the cultural construction of a masculine identity, the omnipresent physical and sexual violence, and the use of language to degrade both Africans and women. I realized that animals were also present in each of the two texts, as well as a process of animalization, and that this presence was bound up with each of the significant motifs that I recognized. I ultimately argue that the animal is the infra-human and that the boundaries and categories that we have constructed between animals and humans are linked to our desire for mastery and superiority. I posit that we transform, and are transformed by, animals. However, it is vital to regard our differences as well as our similarities. If we focus only on similarities, we risk the anthropomorphic, humanistic label that animal rights philosophers have been charged with. We are both separate beings, and beings that are of each other. Also, if we focus on similarities, the histories of gendered and racial violence could be potentially legitimized by their perpetrators. Animalization is used to establish a link between women and animals, blacks and animals, or any person identified as Other. This “us/them” binary typically originates from the same apex of power. Issues regarding humans and animals can (and should) be tackled together, as we seek to undo the constructed hierarchies that precipitate mass violence and discrimination. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)