Yesterday, I don’t know why, I was reminded of an indecent from a few years ago. To be precise it was August in 2006 and I was in Cape Town. I was staying at my friend who had put me up a few times before and she had a party she had to reluctantly attend somewhere in Long Street; the central stretch of Cape Town nightlife. She asked me to accompany her and I, also then reluctantly agreed. Reluctantly because I didn’t know these people and I am not peoples’ person on top of the fact that I was hardly on a party mood. So insignificant the party was, that I can’t even remember the venue (perhaps somewhere upstairs near the Mojitos?). But my story today is based on the fact that my friend loves animals. As grateful as I always was savings a lot of money in accommodation and as much as I enjoyed the company of people in this case, I never really enjoyed the company of the animals. at her place. I just don’t like animals very much. And I say this as someone who really doesn’t want to have much to do with them – I don’t want to wash them, walk them or eat them. Occasionally I have some leather in my shoes though, but that’s about it. I am far removed from the realities of animals and to be honest with you, and I don’t want to sound harsh, but there really are more important things to me than what are our four or so legged so called friends.
But I am not writing to incite a flame war between me and the animal kingdom which I am also part of, of course. I am telling a small story. My friend had a new dog at the time and that dog always ended up causing a certain disturbance if left alone. Apparently the poor fella was scared and I am prepared to accept that. My friend had to take this young, in my mind, hardly the pride of its species or in general with us to be left in a car. Already attending the evening reluctantly, my indifference at this point was not measurable with any existing scale should one exist.
So the plan was for the dog to relax in the car having eaten and being taken care off. And it did. But when we came back after a short while, need I remind that neither of us wanted to be there, there was some angry man patrolling next to our car. With great upset he cursed us, the animal hating torturers and cold hearted monsters. The dog was upset, fine, but gathering all my energy to display any interest it appeared to me that it was more scared of the stranger pushing his face to the window and shouting than anything else. The man in fury promised to snitch us to the animal authorities and subsequently land us if not in prison at least in major trouble. It all was merely funny at this point, because I know my friend looked after this animal very well. We drove off up towards the Buitengracht Street the man still behind us waving his fist in anger and then, the first thing next to us was a young boy child, perhaps seven or eight years, by himself in dirty clothes late at night begging for money or food. I am sure I don’t have to tell you what were the ethnic backgrounds of the man or the boy; this is South Africa after all, but all those years ago, at that moment, the indifference that had characterised my whole evening turned into an overwhelming sadness and an anger of my own. The raving animal right man had been patrolling for some time here in anger about a dog, whose life was, and surely still is, very comfortable, right next to a human being who had nothing and was just a child, and who might now, after five years not even have that left.
That is how removed people are from the suffering of others. Especially, the others who don’t look like us. It’s all very text book Cape Town and South Africa in general, but not just them. This applies to all of us as people. We lack moral imagination. We claim we can put ourselves in the shoes of others less fortunate, but we can’t. Of course we really can’t if we’ve never been there, but we think we care. Sure, we want the problems of the ‘underprivileged’ to be ideally solved, but not if it means any change for us ‘overprivileged’. I am afraid what we want as a solution is unrealistic; it is a political, social and logical cul-de-sac. That is why it can only be a moral cul-de-sac as well.