When the big cat eats the black man

It was important that this man was thrown in jail. It is very bad that he is not spending more time there. Let me tell you why.

The South African man convicted of feeding one of his ex-workers to the lions is due to be freed on parole shortly, after three years in jail.

Mark Scott-Crossley was originally given a life sentence for murder but this was reduced after a judge said there was no proof the man was alive. [at the time the victim was thrown into the lion cage]

The remains of Nelson Chisale’s body were found in the lion enclosure, causing a national outcry.

The case highlighted the racial tensions in rural South Africa.

BBC

I’ll been chastised (by white South Africans) for what I’m about to say, but I’m sticking to my guns. (Metaphorical guns, that is.) I have a story you need to hear, though there is a bit of an introduction:

A repost

One could say that there is a wide range of opinions among people about any given thing, with individuals ranging along a spectrum so that every possible combination of opinions from one extreme to the other is represented in any population of sufficient size. But this is not true. People tend to acquire their opinions from the surrounding cultural environment, and this leads to homogenization within subgroups and a much greater level of simple patterning in the larger population. In common parlance we call this “polarization” (although that is not really the best term for this).

So, among white South Africans there is a subgroup, maybe rural (as the BBC piece implies, but I’m not so sure), who do in fact long for the old days of apartheid, and who demonstrate disturbingly racist views. Many Americans over the years of Apartheid who went to South Africa were missionaries, business people, or mercenaries, who tended to at least go along with if not support or even revel in prevailing paternalistic and racist views towards “blacks” and “coloureds.” In my experience, first going to South Africa not long after the beginning of the Post Apartheid days of the New South Africa, it was not uncommon for these white South Africans to exploit what they saw as conversational opportunities to express these racist views with Americans. You see, their prior experience was that Americans were ready to hear remarks such as “They really were happier under the old way. They need someone to tell them what to do. I mean, just look at them.” or “They really have no sense of pain or of life and death. They can’t really sense suffering,” and so on.

How does one deal with this sort of thing? Well, let the conversation continue for a while so you get a few of these things on the table, then start turning the shame screws. This won’t change that person’s mind (I assume) but if a person is chastised more often than not (or at least, more often than never!) when flaunting their unabashed racism, eventually, they just may shut up.

And when they shut up, they can’t as easily pass these views on laterally and into the future.

So, once upon a time … and one or two of you may remember this, because you were there … I was visiting a facility in South Africa not unlike the one where this incident … the lion eating the worker incident … happened. Not the same facility.

An incident had occurred in this facility a few weeks earlier. A man had been killed and eaten by the large cats. The incident had been reported as such, it was considered to be an accident, and the authorities were happy with that. I assume that this is true … that the killing and consumption of a man by two large predators was an accident and that the description of the event that I will give you now is accurate, and not a made up cover story. This, anyway, is my distinct impression.

So, there we were visiting this facility, getting a tour of the ‘back lot’ … where tourists were not normally allowed. The owner of the facility was pointing out this and that animal or enclosure, explaining how and why they were doing what they were doing with the big cats, and so on.

At one point we got to a place where one could see the entry office, where visitors paid their fee to go into the facility, as well as a series of large enclosures that were secondarily surrounded by a security fence. the security fence was enhanced with razor wire, but not very tall. This was not designed to stop cats, but rather, people. the fences around the big cats did not have razor wire, but they were very very tall and I think they were topped with a hot wire … which is something that would not stop a human (because we ‘get’ electric fences and can work around them). But the great height (like, maybe ten meters?) of the fences and the electric strand would keep the cats inside the enclosures.

So now, standing in view of both the entry way off in one direction and the large cat enclosures in the other, we heard the story of the man who was eaten.

He was a robber. He came at sun down, after the facility was closed but before it was totally shut down for bed, and went to the entry office. Using some sort of knife or other weapon (not a firearm) he demanded from the person in the office the contents of the cash box. Which he was given. But, the alarm somehow went out and the three or four big guys … who were telling me this story …. came after the robber. They showed us where they chased him. They showed us where the robber, daunted by the razor wire but thinking one of the enclosure fences was an outer fence, climbed to the top of the fence to get away.

They noted how it was obvious to the pursuers that the robber was about to climb into the cage of two adult sleeping … large … predators. And how they did nothing to stop him. They did not warn him. He climbed over the fence, let himself down to the ground and gave his pursuers a victorious look. He raised his middle finger to give his pursuers a profane victory salute, it is said. And the pursuers … not really pursuing him any more … stood silently, staring back at him.

And they watched the cats, who were asleep at the beginning of this incident but who were now profoundly awake, pounce on him, kill him, and eat him. The pursuers, the owners and controllers of the cats, watched and did nothing.

That they did not warn him was noted as an intentional act and described as an act of justice.

He had, after all, robbed them. So of course, he cold be killed.

The incident described in the BBC report above demonstrates that the death of a black worker by lion in a lion facility is to be taken seriously. This man was convicted of something like homicide. That would make one think, if you were a person with a cat farm. But then the sentence was reduced because it may have been wrongful death followed by improper disposal of a body. That is all pretty absurd (and makes me wonder about the details of the system, the ethnicity of the judge, and so on).

The incident I describe is atrocious, but not to the same degree … no one threw anyone else in a cage of big cats. But, they are both similar incidents in that they were events where a black person died at the claws of the white man’s large cats, without any regard for the humanity and human rights of the victim. Or even the essential victimhood of the victim.

Large cats are in fact used as instruments in homicide in South Africa more often than you might think. I know of a case, for instance, where a body … of a man murdered with a knife … was cast to the lions to get rid of the evidence (didn’t work).

But how often over the last decade or so has an incident in which a person was killed by a caged cat been related in a story in which the cats were the heros … because the victim was black?

I think stories like this were told with the giddiness of self justification more often before this recent conviction, and less often thereafter. But now, it turns out, you get only a couple of years in the stir if your cat eats the black man. A couple of years can make a person a hero. Maybe this particular racist disregard for life will now rebound in the cat farms and other places on the subcontinent.

I hope not, but it probably will. At least among the old guard, as they slowly fade away.

Comments

  1. #1 Anne Gilbert
    August 22, 2009

    I’m not entirely sure what to say about this, other than that, at the time, I was appalled to hear of this incident. Things in South Africa are precarious enough, without some self-righteous idiot throwing another idiot with a different skin color to hungry lions. I mean, there really are better ways of dealing with this kind of idiocy, on both sides. As for the “racial” attitudes, I suspect they’re still fairly widespread, although I also think the current governments and others are doing their best to change things. I’ve talked to people from SA(white) who have such attitudes, though they tend to come out rather subtly, rahter than directly. It makes you wonder.

  2. Greg,

    Thank you for sharing your insights on this. It is always great to read about your experiences traveling the globe. I’m glad you’re not afraid to speak up about racism and inequality.

    Carry on enlightened scientist!

  3. #3 travc
    August 22, 2009

    For a slightly contrarian view…
    Why should this event invoke racism? Yeah, South Africa, so the odds are in your favor. But just suspend disbelief for a few moments and ignore race.

    Putting a person in a cage with big cats is murder regardless of race. Feeding a human corpse to big cats is quite wrong (at least without some pretty damn explicit instructions in a will and some neigh-impossible to acquire permits.)

    For the case of the robber, there are several cultures (sub-cultures at least) I can think of where death by stupidity, especially stupidity with respect to ‘natural’ hazards iconic in the culture, is considered quite just. There may (or may not) be a racial component there… natives are held to a higher standard (they “should know these things”), but “native” isn’t necessarily racially based.
    Anyway, two words: Darwin Award

  4. #4 MadScientist
    August 22, 2009

    Stupid judge – what a lame claim. If the man were dead before he was thrown into the lion’s cage then the man was still murdered. The man didn’t die of natural causes.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    August 22, 2009

    Was it racist? I tried to avoid the most blatant approach, I did not provide direct quotes of how the story was told. And I’d rather not. Just trust me on this one.

    Adria, thanks. Funny, I was just looking at your blog this AM!

  6. #6 Jeremy
    August 22, 2009

    @MadScientist; That’s speculation, and in the case of the law, it’s not allowed and the benefit goes to the accused if details are unclear. Without seeing the entire court records, it’s foolish to say that the judge got things wrong. It’s the same as disagreeing with a claim scientists make without reading the peer reviewed article, or even the abstract. The judge spent probably a couple of days looking at evidence and came to a conclusion. You’ve spent 5 minutes looking at a very brief report of the outcome without seeing any evidence and think he’s wrong.

    That’s not to say he necessarily made the right decision in this case, but I don’t think people who haven’t at least heard what the defence argued and what evidence they had to support them are in a position to make any kind of meaningful criticism of the judgement.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    August 22, 2009

    Jeremy, good point, but there had been a prior jury trial that came to a different conclusion. Usually, an appellate judge tosses something out for something other than having an utterly different interpretation of the evidence.

    Trust me on this, I’m practically a lawyer. In fact, I think I’ll just start calling myself a lawyer. I did live in law school dorms with Barack Obama for a semester, according to rumor… (Unfounded rumors, no doubt)

  8. #8 travc
    August 23, 2009

    Greg… What, no bite on the “death by stupid” = deserved sociological angle? Especially the native vs non-native dichotomy. I’m quite curious what someone with actual relevant knowledge thinks ;)

  9. #9 marktime
    August 23, 2009

    But what is being argued here? The judiciary in South Africa is now composed of judges from both Afican and European heritage so racial bias may or may not have played a part in the recent judgement but is now much more unlikely than say 50 years ago. The question here then is, was the law upheld? There is one man with a 15 year jail sentence convicted of the murder serving time. Scott-Crossely could not be pinned to the murder and cannot be judged on his racist thoughts when he threw what he probably thought was a POS to the lions.

    That his actions were despicable goes without saying and racist is most likely probable but he stated that that was not the case so then he can only be charged for improper disposal of human remains. Which is what happened and he was jailed. You can argue that he should have got a stiffer sentence but that is a different question. If the law now states that he is entitled to parole then that is what should happen. The law is there to protect us all and vengance from your POV (and we are seeing a lot of that kind of reasoning with the release of Abdel al Magrehi) is not a basis for a just society.

    And yes, I would agree that racist overtones still exist in many parts of South Africa amongst Afrikaner and English speaking communities but my sense is that my grandchildren are growing up in a far more integrated society and that many of the existing attitudes will die with their holders within the next twenty years or so.

    The morons watching the thief getting torn to pieces are the equivalent of the people in the Southern States of the USA lynching a black man in public. It’s my opinion that both population groups were lied to in order to maintain a subjugated work force of cheap day labour.

    The group that most profited from apartheid had their shares listed on the the world’s stock exchanges.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    August 23, 2009

    my grandchildren are growing up in a far more integrated society and that many of the existing attitudes will die with their holders within the next twenty years or so.

    That is exactly my feeling as well. I don’t think I”m arguing anything here that you are not, except that I have the sense that you would prefer not to have the matter discussed as much as I feel it should be. But perhaps I’ve gussed at your view incorrectly. In any event, thanks very much for the thoughtful comments.

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