I was a teenager when I first came across the phenomenon. My favourite cousin’s husband was doing his internship at Grootte Schuur hospital. I admired him. I thought there was no higher calling than treating the sick and so was aghast to learn about the ugly, unfounded gossip and vicious internal politics that proliferated in the hospital. How could the two be reconciled? Unfortunately, as I have grown older, I have experienced this phenomenon more than once. It often seems to me that the more sincere the aims, the more vicious the criticism. Are we really just a bunch of crayfish pulling down those who have a chance to crawl out of the bucket and escape?
I was reminded of this at the beginning of November last year, before the Fair Chase Guild had even been officially formed. Koos Barnard, editor of SA Hunter, wrote to a number of the founding members of the Fair Chase Guild to advise them of opposition to its formation by people commenting on a hunting forum on which he had posted certain details of the Guild. These comments included the following:
- The Fair Chase Guild was an elitist body.
- Rich people could buy votes by donating money to fund the activities of the Fair Chase Guild. He quoted one person who wrote, “You’ve got to love the rich, they always have to control everything.”
- The Guild was a plot by SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) to force people to belong to SA Hunters.
- People objected to having their hunting methods judged and criticised.
- The Guild’s Code of Conduct had grey areas and it was uncertain what was allowed and what was not.
- The very idea of the Guild created divisions amongst hunters.
This took by surprise a group of people who had met on a number of occasions over the course of a year to look at ways of promoting hunting – as opposed to defending it on a reactionary basis when yet another controversy broke out – by virtue of a dedicated, three year, public relations strategic plan to be implemented by a professional, highly regarded PR firm. The motivation behind this movement had been the woeful lack of response by existing hunting bodies to the social media storm that broke over the killing of a lion and it came as quite a shock to find we were being criticised for things that had often never entered out minds. For example:
- While we hoped that the Fair Chase Guild would be an aspirational body that people would want to join, at the very first meeting we resolved to ensure that it would not be an elitist body and hence, although we needed some R1,5 million per annum to fund the PR campaign, there was no signing on or annual membership fee. The Guild was to be open to all regardless of their finances.
- We did not know who these ‘rich’ people were. I mean, how do you define ‘rich’ or is it all those people you think may be better off than you? As if rich people – however this term is defined – were a homogenous group who all agreed with one another, about everything, all the time, at the expense of all those who were not ‘rich’ as defined by you.
- It was our suggestion that, as SA Hunters had kindly agreed to host the Fair Chase Guild, it seemed only right, proper and fair that Guild members should belong to them. In addition, the Guild hoped to recruit members from those of SA Hunters.
- Membership of the Fair Chase Guild is not compulsory. No-one is forced to join. There are no immediate and direct consequences to you should you not join. Members of the Fair Chase Guild have nailed their colours to the mast and said this is who we are, this is what we stand for and this is what we want to achieve. Nowhere do we judge hunting methods and shoot them down. We merely publish the Code of Conduct we abide by. Don’t like it? Fine. Don’t join. Don’t do anything pro-active to promote and protect hunting. But why all the hysteria and angst? Why all the unfounded criticisms based on imaginary grievances? I can probably say this as my Mom was Afrikaans but is this yet another case of three Afrikaners being locked in a room for a week. At the end of the week they are no longer talking to one another, they have formed three churches and established three separate political parties?
An article on the Fair Chase Guild was subsequently published in SA Hunter in December, which we hoped would put an end to this kind of nonsense but this week I received a comment to the article from Francois rehashing much of the above criticisms of the Guild. He said I would not publish his comment. Well, here it is exactly as he wrote it.
I have no problem with such a guild being started, its the part of wanting to become the go to organisation in representing South African hunters to the media I have a mayor issue with and I really don’t want this organisation speaking for me or any other hunter I know.
I am curious why you haven’t posted the code of conduct for the guild or mention the way in which voting rights can be bought, a very troubling thing in itself.
I have read the code of conduct of this guild and although the above puff piece makes it out to be a great idea, the code of conduct exposes it as the elitist self righteous organisation it would surely become.
The code of conduct shows clearly how out of touch you guys are with the average South African (meat) hunter. The hunter who represents by far the majority in this country. These are the hunters who introduces the youth to hunting, expose family and friends to venison, essentially forming the boots on the ground for the fight against anti hunting ideology being spread among the general public. The same people you want to represent to the media and the ones you need on your side.
The moment you want to form a committee that wants to dictate hunting methods to other hunters in order to qualify as “real” hunters will be met with resistance. The clear disdain shown at traditional hunting methods from a self righteous group of hunters will not be accepted. This is easily one of the worse crimes a hunter can commit in my opinion and the biggest reason our hunting fraternities are so divided. How many times must we all scream at each other to stand up against the groups wanting to divide us, yet here you are planning on doing exactly that.
I agree with the poor PR from the hunting groups in this country, but there is a reason all these reactionary groups as you call them don’t prescribe hunting methods, they know hunters wont stand for it. Without the hunters themselves surely there will be no success. Strength in numbers will always be stronger than the ideology of a few.
This idea of coming up with your own definition of what constitutes hunting and painting anyone else that don’t fall into your narrow definition as some sort of degenerate wont be accepted by the South African hunter.
I would not want to share a campfire with someone who is a member of this guild and personally view this guild as no different to many anti hunter groups out there. My hope is this guild fails miserable at getting started.
I highly doubt you would publish this comment but hope it gives you some food for thought.
Your email reminds me of the comments I was referred to on one of the many forums that often bedevil our hunting landscape where people often feel free to say the most scurrilous things about others often without a shred of evidence to back it up. So, let me state the obvious first and then go on to make a few other points:
- No-one is compelled to join the Fair Chase Guild.
- The Fair Chase Guild can and will only speak for its members.
- You state we have not posted the Code of Conduct of the Fair Chase Guild, on the one hand, but mention that you have read ‘the above puff piece’, on the other hand. It is true that SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters), under whose auspices the Fair Chase Guild has been formed, has not included the code on its website yet but all potential members are sent a copy with their application forms and the code was published in SA Hunter in their December 2016 issue.
- You are correct that voting rights in the Fair Chase Guild can be acquired, exactly like votes in any company can be acquired when you buy shares in such a vehicle. The more shares, the more votes. While the Fair Chase Guild is deliberately non-elitist and anyone who qualifies can join without paying a cent towards the running of the Fair Chase Guild, the founding members thought that one vote for each rand contributed in a year would be fair. Clearly, someone who has contributed R100 to the operations of the Guild should have greater rights than someone who has contributed nothing. In addition, contributions do not have to sound in money as a value will be placed on those acting as, say, range officers, who donate a hunt, who host the media to an event and so on. Having said that, if the members feel in due course that this system should be changed, then this is their good right and entitlement. I would also hope that, given that members will be like minded individuals and organisations, all decisions will be reached by consensus without the need for a vote and that voting on an issue will be an exceptional event.
- I note you have the gift of seeing into the future in that you know the Fair Chase Guild will become an ‘elitist self righteous organisation’. This would be a huge surprise and disappointment to me and those associated with the formation of the Fair Chase Guild as it is exactly the thing we are determined to avoid. It is for exactly this reason that membership fees have been made optional.
- I am not sure what gives you the right to speak on behalf of ‘the average South Africa (meat) hunter’ – whoever they might be – and also assume we want to represent them to the media. As I wrote at the beginning of this letter, we can and will only speak on behalf of members of the Fair Chase Guild and, therefore, by definition, only those who agree to ascribe to its Code of Conduct.
- We do not presume to dictate anything to anyone, let alone hunting methods. We believe, however, that a large number of hunters in South Africa are keen to differentiate themselves and nail their colours to the mast. They are sick and tired of being branded as unethical, illegal or anti-conservation amongst other things and are looking for an unashamedly ethical hunting home. We also believe our code of conduct allows us not only to defend but promote hunting in that all important court of public opinion, which will ultimately decide the future of hunting. We may be wrong. Time will tell.
- I do not know what constitutes the ‘traditional hunting methods’ you refer to. You will have to enlighten me. Does it, for example, include riding around in the veld in the back of a truck, drinking beer and shooting at animals?
- While you admit that, to date, the existing hunting organisations have been poor at public relations, you seem to prefer the status quo. We are prepared to bet our own time, effort and money that there is a better way of dealing with this situation. In fact, we believe we have to do something about this because, if we do not, we run the risk that all hunting, however you define it, will be stopped for any one of a number of reasons. And, if you look around you in Africa, there are any number of examples to draw from, the most recent being Botswana. The time to sit back and hope the status quo will resolve the issue is over. It is a well known form of madness to keep on doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome the next time you do the same thing.
- You use a lot of emotive language in your letter, ‘self righteous’, ‘puff piece’, ‘dictate’, ‘disdain’, ‘worse crimes’, degenerate’ and so on. I really do not understand the need for all this hysteria. You do not like what we propose. Fine. Do not join. Stay the way you are and leave us alone. As I have shown, you have a hopelessly incorrect view of who we are, what we stand for and what we hope to achieve but, instead of asking us to explain, you fire off a rude and nasty email full of innuendo, incorrect assumptions and nonsense.
- Fortunately, this is still a vaguely free country and we will continue down the path mapped out by the Fair Chase Guild, amended from time to time by its members in perfect harmony with changing circumstances. However misguided you may think we are, at the very least we are doing something about a bad situation, which is getting worse. Just look at one element of the scoreboard – 2007 (16 394 overseas hunters contributed approximately R1,9 billion via daily rates and trophy fees alone) versus 2015 (7 633 overseas hunters contributed approximately just over R1 billion). R900 million less which, with inflation added back, would amount to over R2 billion today. How many game ranches must contract or go out of business before you decide to do something?
Peter Flack (One of the founder members of the Fair Chase Guild)