Charming: South African Leaders Want To Bless 2010 World Cup By Soaking Stadiums With Blood of Sacrificed Animals

2009-10-26 VB SASoccer
© legio09

Vagabondish is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read our disclosure.

The high point of the ancient Greek Olympiads is said to have occurred on the third day of each Games, when 100 oxen were killed in honor of Zeus. So on one hand this idea of inaugurating the 2010 South African World Cup via ritual animal slaughter – the stated goal of the Cup’s cultural activities coordinators – has a ring of classical athletic antiquity to it.

On the other hand, the ancient Greek Olympiads were also closed to female spectators, limited to Greek speakers, and has boxing matches where the gloves were made of hard leather and metal. There’s no international sporting event where we follow those “traditions,” such as they are. Since it’s clear that not all sporting rituals are timeless and inviolable, we kind of figured the whole mass animal destruction thing had also fallen by the wayside.

Apparently not so much:

South African traditional leaders plan to perform ritual animal slaughters to bless stadiums for the 2010 World Cup tournament ahead of the start of the showcase event… Zolani Mkiva, chairman of… a grouping responsible for co-ordinating cultural activities, said the tournament… needed to be blessed in true “African style.” “We must have a cultural ceremony of some sort, where we are going to slaughter a beast (cow),” said Mkiva… “We believe that from the start we’ve got to do things in accordance with our own traditions,” Mkiva said.

Nope. When people arbitrarily select which indigenous traditions they’re going to highlight for outsiders, that’s a choice. We’re not talking about religion here. We’re talking about a bloody manufactured spectacle across 10 soccer stadiums – both soccer and stadiums already being a departure from Africa’s “own traditions” – done to emphasize “style.”

Plus Africa is a really big place. They couldn’t find a part of the continent where the local “style” involved something other than killing animals to appease the sports gods? What if the sports gods don’t even enjoy seeing cows get their throats slit any more? What if they’re into different things now, like puppies and glitter? Think of how awkward that could get.

  1. I can’t tell if you’re upset from an animal-rights point of view, or if you’re just mad that it’s “arbitrary” and “manufactured”?

  2. It’s the combination of the two. You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to think that *senseless* slaughter is disquieting. So the question becomes “is this senseless.”

    Well these gentlemen say it’s not senseless at all – they say that it’s part of their culture.

    That’s where the rest becomes important. There’s nothing inherently wrong with staging a manufactured ritual. Why not? The point is that *if* you’re staging a kitschy and manufactured spectacle then you don’t get to *defend* it on the basis of authenticity.

    That’s why it’s important to realize how silly the “indigenous” argument is. It’s not because that makes it automatically bad. It’s that their defense of this stunt is that it *is* authentic. If that’s not a good argument – and it’s not – then all they’re left with is that they’re killing some cows in public for no good reason.

  3. You don’t have to be an animal rights activist to think that *senseless* slaughter is disquieting. So the question becomes “is this senseless.”

    Fair enough. I think we agree up to this point. I’m not sure, though, why you’re viewing so certain that this is inauthentic, kitschy, staged, manufactured, etc? Because not all aspects of the original are being preserved, none of it is authentic anymore? Because it’s being done in affiliation with a sport that wasn’t a part of traditional African life? I guess I don’t think that taking parts of an original whole, or diluting the original to some extent, negates its authenticity and makes it a staged joke. Was it a kitschy stunt when Mandela wore traditional garb to his trial, because he was a trained lawyer who’d been wearing a suit and tie for years? It is inauthentic to incorporate traditional Africa elements into a Western-style church wedding? And so on.

    I think these sorts of cultural fusions are wonderful – though I’m less thrilled about the ones that involve ritual slaughter of animals – and I’m puzzled by the idea that they’re invalidated in some way.

  4. I think that the suggestion of cultural fusions is a really interesting one. Like everything else this is a judgment call – and, given the intercultural tangles, a pretty muddy one. Respecting other cultures is arguably *the* question that serious travelers have to face, never more so then when those cultures’ practices might not be what we’d choose for ourselves. It’s *always* a balancing act between the sense you have for the genuine cultural resonances those practices have vs. your own sense of revulsion.

    My sense from reading about this is that there are just as many South Africans rolling their eyes over this as there are Westerners. Johannesburg is a global city, one of the world’s 40 biggest. This isn’t getting covered locally as some kind of solumn ritual with strong cultural resonances. Instead it’s being greeted with smirks and eyerolling. In fact, if you try to find information on animal sacrifice in Africa, most of the stuff you come up with *across Google* is about this controversy. That’s because it’s simply – as a brute empirical matter – not deeply ingrained into the culture; that at least one explanation for why so many South Africans also think it’s a weird and unnecessary stunt. It seems to be much closer to the US holding the Olympics and then trotting out everyone in cowboy hats and Davy Crocket caps.

    Plus, even if none of that was true, it still doesn’t answer the central point: Africa is filled with ancient and wild variety. Why highlight that particular cultural practice – for the first time, mind you, since this didn’t happen when they hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup or the 2003 Cricket World Cup – rather than any of those others?

    So while public animal sacrifice might not be off-the-charts inappropriate enough to just reject out of hand – and some vegan and vegetarian athletes are suggesting that it is, though I’m agnostic on it – the practice is *singular* enough that this seems like a pretty straightforward call after everything’s said and done.

  5. I’d love to see some more links on this – my Google search turned up a zillion re-prints of the Reuters story, which offers zero background on either the origins/significance of the ritual or the reaction in South Africa. It also came up with a couple of very angry blog posts that are textbook dismissal-of-Africa-as-a-dark-land-of-savagery-and-barbarism.

    This angry blogger certainly seems convinced that ritual animal slaughter is a major part of South African life:

    This South African news story is light on details too, but its comments section includes a reference to “savages” in “darkest Africa,” a suggestion that the world respond with an apartheid-era-style boycott of the country (with the implication that animal slaughter is just as bad as that unbelievably ugly regime was), and several semi-veiled comments about the crime levels in Jo’Burg being somehow related.

    This sort of story always brings out the racists and imperialists, which is why, despite being a lifelong vegetarian, I hesitate to jump on the condemnation train. I suspect a lot of folks object to this for the wrong reasons. I’m not convinced that it’s up to outsiders to judge the authenticity of someone else’s cultural practice, and I’m also not convinced that ritual animal slaughter at the World Cup is necessarily any worse than what happens at The Keg every night.

    As for the point about Africa’s diversity, well, presumably South Africa’s leaders want to tap into one of their own traditions, not one from thousands of miles away. Of course I haven’t seen anything saying this is an essential South African cultural practice, but I haven’t seen anything saying it isn’t, either.

    I’m enjoying this discussion. I had my back up initially because I found your post maybe a bit overly skeptical or contemptuous, but it’s been interesting talking things out further.

  6. An interesting discussion, and less narrow-minded (or at least, narrow-horizoned) than on some of the other blogs where this story has surfaced.

    So , first, a disclaimer: I’m South African. I’m also white. My cultural traditions involve drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea rather than slaughtering an animal. This also means I’m skipping into a minefield by even opening my mouth here. It’s almost impossible for me to say anything without someone being able to claim racism on my part. At the very least, I’m speaking with an unabashedly white voice; something I can’t do much about.

    To answer a question or two: Yes, ritual animal sacrifice is indeed common in the country. And yes, it generally raises a certain amount of eye-rolling, but mostly among the white populace bemused at the nouveau riche black family who moved in down the road in their upmarket suburb slaughtering a goat of a Saturday afternoon to celebrate a wedding in the family. (Look, before I get people asking me about the lions wandering the streets, I’m not saying this happens every Saturday afternoon in every upmarket neighbourhood, but it certainly does happen in actual fact and not just in urban legends.)

    Why didn’t this happen for the Ruby or Cricket World Cup? Simple, really: South Africans’ tastes in sport are still largely segregated despite the best efforts of the sporting authorities. Rugby and Cricket are “white” sports, and soccer is largely “black”.

    Another point: It’s not South Africa’s “leaders” who suggest this particular sacrifice; it’s some cultural group. (According to the original report, anyway.) I’m sure South Africa’s “leaders” – by which I mean its democratically elected government – couldn’t care one way or the other.

    I’m sure the average white South African with a post-Apartheid mindset could care less about this one way or the other either. Ritual animal slaughter is simply part of the indigenous culture and that’s just that. I almost cannot imagine that the stadiums will be completed without a ceremony or two of the type, whether it’s officially recognised and publicised in newspapers, or just an informal event for the workers.

    Finally, some personal comments: Cultural relativism and multiculturalism are funny old things. Unless you lay claim to some ultimate moral authority such as your Bible or whatnot, you have to accept that our sense of morality is culturally and socially inspired. What one culture finds acceptable and even run-of-the-mill might sound barbaric to another. (The LA Times asks how this would’ve looked before the opening of the World Cup in Chicago. Err, newsflash: Johannesburg isn’t Chicago. It’s a world away, geographically and culturally.)

    On the other hand, does this mean I have to accept it as morally correct if someone in some foreign country denies (say) women their rights and/or ritually mutilate them because it’s his culture? I’d say… no. Where to draw the line, though? Don’t ask me!

    I’ve clicked the box to be notified of follow-ups, so ask questions if you will.

  7. OK, I’m going to follow up to myself here…

    I briefly looked for any mention of this story on South Africa’s two premier online news sites ( and and – as expected – didn’t find a peep, confirming my suspicion that this is pretty much not news locally.

    I then did a search for “world cup slaughter” on both sites, and came up with one article from July about something very different, but which might serve to illustrate the normal everyday nature of the situation. The article in question is here:

    In summary, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was touring the construction site of the stadium being built in Durban, accompanied by one Obed Mlaba, the mayor of the eThekwini municipality of which the City of Durban forms part.

    The final paragraph of the article states matter-of-factly:

    “Zuma called on Mlaba to slaughter a cow for the workers when they finished building the Moses Mabhida stadium. – SAPA”

    So here we have the President of the country suggesting to the mayor of a city of 3.5 million inhabitants that he slaughters a cow. You may think this contradicts my statement in the previous post that the “leaders” simply aren’t bothered by it, but I think it underscores it. You may have to adjust your cultural spectacles, but this is neither unusual, nor would this fact remotely have raised a fuss when it was reported in a throwaway “human interest” final paragraph by the local press agency.

    Many a goat and cow is going to meet its end across the country in celebrations both official and unofficial. It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, the South African Government and/or sporting authorities will do in response to the outcry over the Reuters article. If, that is, there is an outcry beyond the mild hubbub on the blogosphere.

  8. Thanks for the follow-ups, wjv! It’s good to learn a bit more about the role of this sort of ritual in South African life. And (speaking as a complete outsider, of course) I think you handled that minefield admirably.

    I’m also unsure of where to draw the line on the cultural relativism front, but – given that North America is filled with slaughterhouses, and that as a culture we (generally) accept the killing of animals for practical purposes – I’d say that for me, this particular event isn’t it.

  9. Just a couple cows – no different than the inside of a North American slaughterhouse (and probably on a much smaller scale).
    Let them have their sacrifice, the cows deserve it for being so tasty in the first place.

  10. What the hell is up with people’s spelling? If your going to write about something from one perspective to another at least try to back it up with spell-check or something. None of you make any good points when we can’t read what you think you’re trying to say.

    First, fuck off to the idiot who tried to lump everyone in Calif. as some kind of whiny liberal. I happen to be a vegatarian, a little liberal, and from California. Guess what asshole, I have no problem with hunting or fishing, I have done both over the years and would never want to take that away from anyone. I ate what I got and enjoyed the experience. Before some Nazi vegan starts crying in their PBR, I choose to not eat meat because I don’t support industrial ranching, and for the health reasons that go along with it. If you don’t kill it yourself don’t eat it. I am a human and also an omnivore. I’m not opposed to killing animals, I’m opposed to the environmental effects of overfishing and
    hunting. If the Japanese have their way we won’t have to debate about this anymore, `cause there will be no more fish to catch anyway.

    It wasn’t that long ago that we were all from hunter gatherer groups. It’s still engrained in our psyches. Some people love the thrill of the hunt/fish. Let them do it. Humans by nature are risk takers. If we weren’t we would have died off along time ago. What we really need to be boycotting are the huge commercialized fishing and ranching companies. These are the ones that are fucking up the environment, and in turn poisoning the people who buy things like ‘Tyson” chicken. (that’s for the earlier blogger, could you have picked a shittier co. to reference?)

  11. Those who condone this wilful cruelty must be psychopathic.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's Make Sure You're Human ... * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Subscribe to Our 'Under the Radar' Newsletter
If you love travel, you're gonna love this!