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Shifting the struggle from human rights to animal rights in South Africa

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The 17th century colonization of South Africa by the British and Dutch paved the road toward 20th century Apartheid. For forty-six years, from 1948 to 1994, the National Party’s legislative policies of Apartheid dehumanized the majority non-white South African citizens.

In any country that experiences deep-rooted human oppression, human rights and the struggle for survival takes precedence over animal rights. Like the gradual process of obtaining equal rights and regaining human dignity, the process of establishing equal rights for animals is also a piecemeal progression.

While poverty, disease, war, and injustice endure, ambivalence and speciesism also persists to hamper equality for non-human animals. For those willing and ready to think and live outside standard social norms, changing the dialogue and altering systems of deep-seated exploitation is a massive endeavor.

In addition to numerous canned hunting and illegal wildlife poaching issues, ritual animal sacrifice, the slaughter of animals unrelated to food production, in South Africa is still practiced. Among the traditional religions of the Xhosa, Zulu, Tsonga, and Pedi people, ritual sacrifice is practiced for life celebrations, death ceremonies, healing, and ancestral reverence.

South Africa is also steeped in a meat consumptive culture. The braai (Afrikaans for “barbecue”) originated with the white Afrikaner people predominantly of Dutch origin and was adopted by many South Africans. A celebratory tradition for any occasion, the braai is a distinct, meat-focused social event that mobilized Braai Day as a national heritage holiday.

Ronel Fortune, Founder of 269Life South Africa, says of the existing culture, “If you are vegan, you are weird, odd, or alternative. Veganism is definitely a subculture.” In spite of the challenge of living a vegan lifestyle in South Africa, Ronel says, “The vegan community is growing, albeit slowly.”

Born in Cape Town, Ronel now lives in a suburb of Johannesburg, the provincial capital of Gauteng and considered the financial capital of South Africa. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, the scenic views are filled with natural beauty and splendor. In the province of Gauteng, you are likely to find the Big 5; the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo, the most popular tourist attraction animals to revere and ironically also to hunt and poach.

“My daughter became vegan when she was sixteen and I supported her lifestyle, but never gave it a go myself,” Ronel admits. “My lukewarm attitude towards animals changed only three years ago when I adopted a little dog from a shelter. She changed my attitude about animals.”

Within the last three years, Ronel has transitioned from meat-eater to pescetarian, then vegetarian, and one year ago she fully embraced veganism to unplug herself from a system that exploits humans, animals, and the earth. Her vegan lifestyle includes cruelty-free choices in food, clothing, cleaning materials, and cosmetics. Although she is employed full-time, Ronel recently established Decadently Vegan, a catering company that supplies vegan confections.

Having participated in protests with Beauty Without Cruelty South Africa, founded and organized by renowned animal rights activist and educator Smaragda Louw, Ronel turned her attention toward the plight of farm animals to spark change in the resistant, meat-eating society. After learning about the 269Life movement, Ronel founded 269Life South Africa.

“There were already 269 supporters here, but no one was actively representing 269,” Ronel says. “I started engaging other 269 founders and the one that held my interest the most, since he was very active, was Remko Ehrhardt.”

Remko Ehrhardt, Founder of 269Life Netherlands, was at the forefront of propelling the 269Life movement into the public eye with it’s innovative slaughterhouse and fur farming exposures. From May 2013 to January 2014, 269Life Netherlands regularly infiltrated and exposed the mink, rabbit, pig, chicken, and goat industries in Holland. Moreover, 269Life Netherlands developed Live Exposure events on Twitter as they happened.

“We are running 269Life South Africa together,” Ronel states. “Remko is an absolute asset in every single area in my life.”

269Life South Africa is currently planning a few campaigns, specifically regarding factory farming. “We want to do live exposures,” Ronel says, “but here with the high security, it’s more difficult than in Holland.”

“The only way for total liberation to take place for all is to educate. We need to educate and stand up for our rights to be compassionate and for the animals’ right to life itself,” Ronel states.

“We will always speak for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters who are unable to speak for themselves. We have to educate by all means possible, any means possible, to build a cruelty-free, vegan world.”

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