My second reading of Animal Farm after a great many years was prompted by a critic of the South African government who like many people living here now, have eventually become disgusted with their [SA government’s] behaviour. The parallels between the book’s plot and characters and the political dispensation and rulers of present-day South Africa are quite remarkable.
An advocate of Socialism, Orwell was prompted to write Animal Farm to expose the false notion that the 1917 Russian Revolution was a progressive development for the millions of poor and oppressed Russians. However, the book eventually came to symbolise any form of political, social or economic oppression of ordinary people in the real world. To that effect, I’ll make some comparisons with South Africa after I’ve dealt with the plot.
Inspired by Major, an ageing boar, a group of barn animals on Manor Farm, rebel against the oppressive and neglectful owner, Mr. Jones. After ejecting him and the other humans from the farm, the animals rename it Animal Farm, formulate an ideology called Animalism based on the philosophy proposed by Major, and draw up a charter called the Seven Commandments of Animalism which is painted on the barn wall.
The pigs gravitate into leadership positions, with Napoleon and Snowball being the early candidates. Napoleon however display his hunger for power quite early in the plot, and enlists the help of Squealer [can you think of a better name for a pig?], a pig with natural persuasive qualities, who develops into a propagandist of note. After the owner unsuccessfully tries to take back the farm, in which Snowball demonstrates both bravery and a skill for battle, he has a falling out with Napoleon over the building of a windmill. Napoleon with the help of some vicious dogs whose training he personally supervised, manage to chase Snowball off the farm, and appropriates the main leadership role.
Snowball becomes a convenient scapegoat through the rest of the novel for Napoleon who through Squealer find it quite easy to convince the other animals that he [Snowball] was to be blamed for all the mishaps and setbacks that occurred on the farm.
Napoleon organises and supervises various work details on the farm. Boxer, a horse proves to be a very willing worker, while the sheep [no surprises there] display a remarkable talent for gullibility.
Over the course of the years, Napoleon degenerates into a true despot, who hungers for material possessions as well. He moves into the main farmhouse and uses possessions of the human owners for his own comfort, while these remain forbidden to the other animals. We also notice how the Seven Commandments of Animalism slowly change into something else suiting the dictatorial style of Napoleon, or disappear altogether, amazingly with the approval and agreement of the other animals. Such is the depravity of Napoleon, that he forces false confessions out of some of the animals for imaginary misdeeds, and has them murdered by the dogs in the presence of the other animals.
As time passes, Napoleon collaborates with neighbouring farmers like Pilkington, in violation of the original Seven Commandments, to build a successful farming empire, and eventually the pigs begin to walk upright on their hind legs to mimic their former human oppressors. All this while as the pigs grew fatter, the other animals led a very stark and oppressed existence. The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single one: “All Animals Are Equal / But Some Are More Equal Than Others.”
The book closes on a scene with the animals looking in through the window of the farmhouse where a party is in progress, with the pigs as hosts and human guests drinking and arguing over a card game. We are told that the pigs had become indistinguishable from the humans.
Parallels in the South African Political Dispensation to Animal Farm
|Mr. Jones||Apartheid or former political dispensation|
|Manor Farm/Animal Farm||South Africa|
|Major||Old [respected] ANC leaders|
|Napoleon||ANC [current leadership]|
|Snowball||White folk, White business, capitalism|
|Squealer||Mac Maharaj, any other ANC spin-doctor|
|Animalism||Freedom Charter, Social Democracy|
|Seven Commandments||New SA Constitution|
|Boxer||Willing, skilled workforce|
|Sheep||Gullible South Africans who continue to vote ANC|
|Vicious dogs||Blue light convoys and personal protection of the ANC leaders|
|Napoleon’s materialism||ANC’s penchant for self-enrichment and bling|
|Pilkington||China as a trading partner|