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WHEN IS A HORN NOT A HORN?

Pretoria dominee claims defamation after posting ‘mocking’ photo and comments about antelope he hunted

Pretoria dominee claims defamation after posting ‘mocking’ photo and comments about antelope he hunted
Dominee Mark le Roux’s Facebook post. (Photo: Facebook)

Inspectors of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are confronted by human cruelty to animals almost daily. Most of the time, they focus on doing what they can for the victims of abuse, but occasionally they blow their stack. Jaco Pieterse of the Cape of Good Hope SPCA did just that – and it landed him in court.

Let’s begin with the image that started all the trouble. In it, a bloody antelope – presumably dead – is propped at the steering wheel of a bakkie. On the roof, a man is draped with his tongue out, pretending to be dead.

The man on the roof, according to evidence presented in an Alberton court, is Dominee Mark le Roux, who also serves on the Ethics Committee of the SA Medical Association.

Dominee Mark le Roux’s Facebook post. (Photo: Facebook)

dominee le roux

Dominee Mark le Roux’s Facebook post. (Photo: Facebook)

Above the image – and this is what riled SPCA inspector Jaco Pieterse – are the words (translated from Afrikaans): “I killed my first buck over the weekend, in my deceased grandfather’s farm socks, first shot dead, Veldfokus style. Am I now a real man now? Am I embarrassed that I got horn)? Did I cry because it was my first time? Can I avoid the first-buck tradition of eating its testicles? Can I wear the shirt again? The answer is no.”

Pieterse responded: “This post hit a nerve. Who in their right mind makes a mockery of a dead animal? There is nothing the SPCA can do about hunting as it is not illegal. The majority of people eat meat and animals are killed… in abattoirs – this is not in dispute or an issue here. 

“The issue is that a person will make a mockery of a dead animal he hunted by draping the carcass behind a steering wheel just for an added bit of fun and laughter. The only conclusion I can make is that a person that acts in this manner clearly has psychological issues and needs urgent intervention.

dominee hunt

NSPCA inspector Jaco Pieterse’s response to Le Roux’s posts. (Image: Supplied)

“When I raised my concerns with Mark, I was told ‘vlieg in jou moer in’ [loosely translated as ‘get lost’] and blocked.” They had formerly been Facebook friends.

The court heard that the posts apparently went viral.  

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Le Roux claimed reputational damage. As a dominee, he had reportedly not been invited back to the church to preach. He had also reportedly lost his job and his standing in the LGBTQ community had suffered.

He has legal training and sued Pieterse and the NSPCA for defamation, claiming R200,000 in damages. He demanded that Pieterse take down his post and that he receive an apology from the NSPCA saying they do not associate with his statements. The latter demand was later dropped.

In court, much of the evidence presented and contested involved Facebook posts, their retraction, reinstatement, wording and intention. 

Theological view

Pieterse’s counsel, advocate Quintin Steyn, asked Le Roux, who has a Master’s degree in theology (but denied being an expert on theology), what the theological view would be on depicting a dead animal in such a way while making such statements. 

Le Roux’s advocate countered that it was not relevant to the case, but Steyn disagreed, saying Le Roux had entered his CV into the court records so his religion was part of his plea, and that the post had caused reputational harm involving requests to preach.

Le Roux responded he could not comment further other than to say that “the Lord gives us control of the animals to take care of”.

Masculinity

Steyn then turned to Le Roux’s comments on masculinity. 

“You testified that the tradition and the theory behind hunting is to create and to establish your masculinity. That’s the main goal. If you shoot your first buck, you are now a man. And when you prop the buck behind the steering wheel, you say it was for fun. And you say you are sexually aroused by the whole endeavour. You had an erection. And you say that the first-buck tradition is to eat its testicle and you are prepared to do this.

“You said as a young man you didn’t feel comfortable hunting animals, but now you feel comfortable and you take photos and post on social media saying things like that. What does that mean?”

Le Roux said he didn’t state that, but put it as a question. It was a sexual pun, he said.

Steyn responded: “You post a faded photo of an animal mockingly dead, while captioning: ‘Should I feel ashamed of being sexually aroused by killing this buck?’ That is what you did. And I put it to you this is what sparked the whole issue and response… there is no reason for you to have depicted this animal in this fashion without expecting an outcry from the public.”

Detailed discussion turned on the nature of the term “having a horn” and the absence of the letter “s” on the word horing. “When you refer to a horn,” said Steyn, “were you referring to the two horns of the buck, which is plural.” 

Le Roux claimed he was referring to the horns of the buck.  

“Then why do you ask,” Steyn said, “‘should I be ashamed that I have a horn?’ This translates to ‘have an erection’ in Afrikaans. So what did you mean when you referred to it in the public forum?” 

Le Roux: “The reference is to the buck’s horns.”

Steyn: “There’s only a singular reference.”

Le Roux: “That could be the buck horn. A secondary meaning could be a pun towards sexual arousal or erection referring to masculinity.”

Damages

Turning to the impact of the posts, Le Roux said raising his sexuality was inappropriate and had caused damage. Le Roux’s counsel, advocate Wessels, wanted to know why Pieterse had raised the issue of his client’s sexuality.

“Your Worship, the LGBTQ community is very small. I work on an ethics committee and am also the Reverend Minister of a small congregation for the gay community and a law firm as well. 

“These posts generated a lot of negative reactions; people threatening me, sending direct messages… the congregation has not asked me to do any services and word of it has got to the ethics committee.”

According to Wessels, thousands of Le Roux’s friends and hundreds of community members reacted to the posts and he is “heartbroken”.

Animal cruelty and freedom of speech

On the second day of the trial, Steyn defended Pieterse’s posts from two angles: animal cruelty and freedom of speech. He cited a Constitutional Court ruling that animals were sentient and capable of suffering.

“Animals have no voice of their own, like slaves under Roman law,” he told the court. “They are the objects of the law without being subject. So the Constitutional Court… places an onus on humanity to bear in mind and express the responsibility of welfare and protection of animals and their dignity.”

For this reason, he said, Pieterse was within his rights, as an SPCA inspector, to speak in their defence. And on the matter of freedom of speech, Pieterse had said nothing that was factually incorrect.

“The Constitution protects the inherent rights of a citizen of South Africa to honestly express his or her genuine opinion.” Defamation requires that an untruth be made public about someone. This did not happen in this Facebook exchange.

Duty

When Pieterse was asked by Wessels why he made public his objections to Le Roux’s post, he responded: 

“The SPCA is the custodian for animals in the country. If people like myself don’t speak up when people make a mockery of animals, when people disrespect the dignity of animals, when people get an erection and don’t feel ashamed about it when they kill an animal, someone has to speak up.

“As a law enforcement officer, in terms of the Animal Protection Act, as someone who took an oath of office to protect and speak up for animals, I felt it was my duty to stand up and say something.

“It’s disgusting, to say the least, to make a mockery of an animal. And I would even say… that it borderlines on sadistic behaviour. It’s unacceptable. One does not drape an animal behind the steering wheel after you kill it and then post it on social media on a public forum for other people to see.”

Counsel for both parties will now assemble lead arguments. Judgment is set for 30 March. DM/OBP

This article was amended post-publication to clarify the interpretation of several statements around Mr Le Roux’s Facebook posts as referenced in the court proceedings. We apologise to Mr Le Roux for the inconvenience caused.

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