Much as we profess to oppose crime and corruption, and despise the exploitation of people and the environment, we allow the rats who live among us to continue these practices, writes Hagen Engler.
“Daddy, there’s a dark, furry animal!” gasped my daughter.
Given her levels of creative ingenuity, I was initially at a loss for how to take this news. Had she glimpsed the cat from next door through the kitchen window? Was she imagining something?
No. As I later discovered on a visit to the kitchen, there was indeed a dark, furry animal in our apartment – a large rat.
Not a mouse, mind you. An insouciant rat, about the size of a man’s fist, calmly sniffing around the toaster and the kettle. Making its way towards the fruit bowl. I was able to shoo it off the counter, to where it had apparently built its lair behind the washing machine.
But this was now an issue of some urgency in our household, rising in priority over our need for new, limited-edition fidget toys from Greenbusters at Melrose Arch!
We were off to Builders first thing the next morning to drop a serious amount of cash on about six different forms of anti-rat technology. Traditional mousetraps, lures, spring-loaded mazes, poison and ultrasonic electric repelling machines that you plug into the wall. All of these now have pride of place in our kitchen. In fact, there’s not much room for preparing food now.
Anyone who has faced this dilemma will know that rats are a time to flex our human species’ superiority over the rodent race. “Live and let live,” for sure. Just not in our flat.
All our technology is now installed and I keenly await the sound of a trap snapping shut in the middle of the night and the discovery of a rat corpse by the bins. However, in the dark of that anticipatory night, as an intellectual I also began to muse on the meaning of rats in one’s kitchen.
Sure, the rat is our enemy. It must be got rid of, cast out of our community here on the ground floor in our pleasant Morningside complex.
But why is the rat there, if not because of us? The rat feeds off our leavings, the crumbs of our toasted hot-cross buns. The rubbish we’ll take out tomorrow because the bin’s not totally full yet. The dishes awaiting the next shift of washing. It is our lifestyle that supports the rats.
These intruders have not entered our domain on a whim. They are here because our lifestyle supports them. In a sense, the rats are of us!
As I lay in bed, straining my ears for the sound of a spring-loaded trap crushing a rat’s neck, I mused on how the rat was my fellow traveller through life. I also began theorising that in broader society, the rat is also present. The thief, the criminal, the embezzler, the corruptor, the exploiter… all of these are rats of a sort, feeding off the opportunities our civilisation allows them.
Much as we profess to oppose crime and corruption, to despise the exploitation of people and the environment…
Even while we complain about maladministration, graft and incompetence, we allow it. We even facilitate it through tacit acceptance. By using the “flexibilities” of the law when it suits us.
We decry the abuse and murder of women and children, the squalid conditions that poor people are forced to live in, the tragically inadequate levels of service that we all receive from our government. All of this, we say, is unacceptable.
But, by our actions, we show that this is in fact acceptable to us. We allow crime, corruption and exploitation. We condone the abuse of the poor and the violation of women and children. We continue the system by which black people fight to survive in poverty and a privileged few, like myself, live in comfort.
We allow rats to live among us. We have built a rat-friendly country, a kitchen littered with the debris and the mess of greed, apathy and ambition in a desperate, uncaring, selfish society.
The technology to rid ourselves of these metaphorical rats exists – criminal clampdowns, commissions of inquiry, prison terms even. But these are like rat traps that treat the symptom and not the cause.
The real solution to address an infestation of rats is to practise better hygiene, to build an environment that creates no opportunities and nothing for the rats to feed off.
I know it’s easier said than done, but when I’m not dreaming of rats, I dream of a country with a principled culture of doing everything to improve the quality of life of the poorest among us. By extension, we would then punish theft and selfishness.
We would run a clean kitchen, catch the rats and throw them out with the trash.
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