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.
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:
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.