A scandalous yarn about South Africa’s mohair industry
Video shows upsetting scenes on local angora farms
The South African mohair industry – which supplies more than 50% of the fashionably soft, supple material to the world – might be in serious trouble.
The recent release of inflammatory video footage, taken by covert PETA activists on visits to 12 local angora goat farms, has elicited an explosive response from retailers and consumers. H&M, Zara, Gap and Topshop have undertaken to remove mohair products from their repertoire.PETA’s disturbing agitprop is primarily concerned with the brutality of the shearing process: the footage comprises the gurgled screams of kid goats being corralled into pens, an array of mutilated goat corpses in different stages of putrefaction, and variations on the myriad coercions by means of which these animals are profitably denuded. It’s unequivocally upsetting.
Simultaneously, though, there is something about the hyperbole employed by the video’s conscientious narrator that undermines the integrity of PETA’s investigation. At times the narrative is plainly disingenuous.We are meant to infer, for example, that a perfectly organic-looking dead goat – “allegedly” the victim of a natural predator, the voice of PETA sneers sardonically – was a casualty of deliberate cruelty. Shortly afterwards, a worker who methodically nudges a goat with his knees to prevent it from standing up while it’s being shorn is described as having “sat on” the creature as though he planned the action with deliberate malice. Indeed, there is no compassion spared for the human actors who unknowingly exposed themselves to vitriol in this video – the South African farmworkers were doing their minimum-wage jobs in the utilitarian fashion to which they’ve no doubt become accustomed.Of course, PETA’s proselytism doesn’t justify the status quo. It’s difficult to remain impartial when the suffering of animals is revealed as a raw, inexorable reality: for all our myriad cruelties and contradictions, humans cannot help but react viscerally to the primal sounds and signs of pain which sever the cognitive dissonance we require to eat steak and still sleep peacefully. It is truly upsetting to see some of the goats’ bare skin bleeding and mutilated by enormous cuts after they’ve been shorn – according to PETA’s report, the workers responsible are paid by volume and not by the hour, which incentivises them to rush at the expense of finesse. For me, though, the worst scene in the short exposé shows workers shearing the wool off the corpses of goats that didn’t survive their internment: it has painful ethical ramifications of reducing animals to commodities.