Tuesday, January 14, 2014

South Africa 2014 vs Animal Farm

I love stories that don’t have the predictable happy endings – that’s mainly because they are rare to find. Animal Farm, a classic written by George Orwell, is one such story.

First published in 1945 this satirical tale remains a worth while read in 2014, especially if you follow South African politics. It’s my second read of the book (the first being in high school), and I couldn't
 help but make comparisons with the happenings on Animal Farm with modern day South Africa.

The gist of the story is; after years of abuse from humans, the animals of Manor Farm (as it is initially named) stage a rebellion that sees Jones (the farmer), his wife and workers kicked out of the farm.

What gave the animals courage to take matters into their own hands? Well, firstly they were not blind to their under fed, over worked conditions. Secondly, an aged pig, Old Major, prophesised the rebellion and shared it with the animals just before he died – even teaching them a song that was meant to be taught to generations to come.

The ill-treatment of animals by Jones can easily be compared to the Apartheid Laws.
Old Major represented political elders such as Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Chris Hani – leaders that believed in a South Africa where Black people were not oppressed.

As it would happen, the rebellion happened sooner than the animals thought it would (they assumed generations after them would have the courage to do something about their condition). But when an opportunity presented itself – it was grabbed.

Finally the animals were free, running their own farm – changed its name to Animal Farm. They were lead by two young pigs; Snowball and Napolean. They’d been preparing for the rebellion, learning to read and write, as well as how the animals could run the farm without the help of humans.

All was well in the first year of their reign. They even won a war against Jones and his men who tried to stage a take-over of the farm.

But politics being politics…things between the two leaders were not pretty. There was an apparent tension, mostly from Napolean’s side. Napolean is a cunning little (later to be fat) pig. Before he ultimately ran Snowball out of the farm – he won the hearts of a few key animals, Squealer (the Spin Doctor pig), the dogs (law enforcement) and the sheep (unquestioning supporters who repeat his praises).

For some reason I equated Snowball to Thabo Mbeki, Napolean to Jacob Zuma, Squealer to Mac Maharaj (and just about every other MP and spokesperson that had grabbed a mic and tried to explain Nkandla, Firepools, eTolls etc).

There is though another interesting animal, Mollie the saddle horse; she reminded me of those individuals who daringly declare that things were nicer during the apartheid era. Mollie is the only one that thinks so and regardless how things turn out at the farm – no animal wants to go back under the rule of the humans – they take pride in their freedom (and would rather serve another animal and not man).

The story’s twists and turns see the animals going from powerful slogans like “Four legs good, two legs bad”, to “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. From noble times to slogans that seemingly leave room for corruption – which became the norm on the farm.

Animal Farm doesn’t have a happy ending, it doesn’t have a bad ending either - it leaves you wondering… wondering if there will be another rebellion. The animals know that how things have turned out is not what they’d hoped for. There are great infrastructure progresses that have been made, they still have their animal freedom but something is just not right at how their current leadership is behaving.

Orwell writes the last chapters of the story in such a way that while reading it – you can feel the animal’s anguish. They know that things are not right but because they are not as well read as the pigs – they doubt their thoughts. And with new generation growing and only a few of the old animals there in the first revolution – the fear and doubt will be past on.

If I were to imagine an ending to Animal Farm – it would begin with the animals educating themselves in secret. Those that remember Old Majors prophecy – they’d write it and teach the younger animals. They’d then challenge the pigs. Yes, there is a threat of food rations being cut or the dogs ripping their throats out – but that is the cost of any revolution. But that revolution will have to start with the animals – no one will do it for them.

Unlike Animal Farm though, South Africa in 2014 sees many standing up to the governing party. Questions are being asked in a form of protests, opposition parties (old and new) and civil movements. 20 years into the democracy and I believe that as much as there are similarities with Animal Farm, South Africa’s story won’t end with the feeling of hopelessness that Orwell’s book left me.

It was great revisiting this classic and it made for a great read to kick-off the year.


  1. Lovely piece! Definitely one of the books I'd like to read again. Animal Farm is one such book that the entire global society can relate to, we experience inequality, read about it and sometimes watch countries go to war because of such ideals. My 57 year old uncle used to rave about this classic when I was still very young and I honestly didn't understand much. George Orwell's book is a classic case of "life imitating art" or is it "art imitating life"?lol..We see a lot of the actions taken on Animal Farm happening in modern day SA.

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