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Leaders wearing fur: When is it OK?




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Emy Will

Emy Will

Greetings from Johannesburg, South Africa. Although I have a doctorate in psychotherapy, my main passion is advocating for nonhuman animal rights. I condemn all cruelty to nonhuman animals and therefore follow a vegan lifestyle. I would like to connect with other animal activists from all over the world. The fur trade is one of the most abhorrent practices on this planet. Innocent animals are subjected to prolonged suffering for a trivial fashion item. As the chairperson of Fur Free SA. we campaign towards ending the global fur industry. This might not happen in my lifetime, but even if I leave one footprint behind, that is one step closer to the goal. This blog is a forum to discuss all aspects of the fur industry. It also raises issues around animal activism in general. Johannesburg is a crazy city and I need to escape from time to time. This photo was taken next to the magnificent Zambezi river.

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No, no, no insisted my inner We Love Madiba” voice.  You can’t say anything slightly negative about this wonderful man. Particularly now, when this icon is in such poor health.

However, the reality is that Nelson Mandela was seen in  a fur hat, albeit a long time ago (late 1990s). This fur hat was given to former President Mandela, when he and his foreign affairs minister Alfred Nzo were in Stockholm on a State visit. The temperature during Mandela’s Scandinavian tour was around 0 degrees Celsius or less. Given this set of facts do you think it was acceptable that he wore his present of a fur hat?  While wearing fur is never acceptable I think that in this situation it was OKish for Mandela to wear this gift. 

Nelson Mandela in fur

While on the topic of Nelson Mandela I would like to share my family’s connection with him. If you look in  Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, chapter 5 there is reference to Reverend C.C. Harris. Well, Reverend Harris is my grandfather. This is a photograph of him in his dog collar, which is fortunately not made out of dog fur.

Reverend Harris 1957


As an adolescent Rolihlahla, which was Mandela’s original name, attended Clarkebury a Wesleyan missionary school. At that time Clarkebury was the biggest education centre in Tembuland and was considered  the highest institution of learning for Africans in Thembuland. The name Nelson was given to Rolihlahla, as the missionaries could not pronounce the name Rolihlahla (I blush with embarrassment).

According to Mandela , my grandfather Reverend Harris ran the school  “…with an iron hand and an abiding sense of fairness”. You just need to look at the photo to understand the iron fist bit.  It is also  reported that Reverend Harris, was the first white man Mandela ever shook hands with. Little did either of them know what a great leader Nelson Mandela would become and how much Mandela would sacrifice to change South Africa.

It is a totally different scenario with Queen Elizabeth II, who just happened to be the eldest child of King George VI.  Anyway I will keep my anti-royalist sentiments to myself and focus on the queen’s fondness for fur items.  As with the Pope, the Queen’s  official robes for special occasions are trimmed with ermine. This is tradition, many would say! But what about the mink scarf and fox hat and mitts? This is entirely the queen’s choice and animal rights folk, including myself, would say that this is unacceptable in this day and age. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1341860/Queen-Duchess-York-accused-ostentatious-cruelty-fur-hats.html#ixzz2bw9LbMlm

Queen in fur collar queen in fur hat                                                          

It is also traditional for the Pope to wear fur. Pope Benedict XVI wore a red velvet hat trimmed with white ermine fur. This type of hat was commonly worn by popes in the medieval period to keep their heads warm during winter. For special occasions a red velvet , ermine-trimmed cape called a mozetta was worn. Pope Benedict wore this type of cloak.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                pope in fur   

Ermine An ermine in the wild.

Millions of  ermine are bred and farmed under horrendous conditions just to be a fur trim. This is cruel and unnecessary. 

Please sign this petition asking the new Pope to stop wearing fur:   http://www.petitiononline.com/FauxFur/petition.html

This plea might be taken seriously by Pope Francis who is named after the patron saint of animals.  In the name of humility  it seems that “ Solid gold rings, velvet capes and ermine furs are out”, as Pope Francis has shunned Vatican tradition in favour of a simpler life style.  See link: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style/fashion/pope-francis-shakes-up-vatican-fashion-1.1488818#.UguSpZJgeVJPope Francis also publicly patted a guide dog, which is  not considered ceremonial in the Vatican.                                                                                                                                                                    pope-blesses-dog                         

Leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day. —Jesse Jackson

Wearing fur in this day and age is immoral and the banning all fur is one of the challenges of the day.



  1. Chris says:

    It may be significant that the current Pope has chosen the name Francis. Francis of Assisi was one of the few Saints in the Catholic lexicon who proclaimed that all living things were God’s creatures. In any event while wearing fur at any time is morally offensive, the degree of such must be less for someone who wears fur for cultural reasons than for someone who purchases fur purely out of vanity.


  2. Emy Wilhelm says:

    So true Chris. Hopefully, though, even cruel cultural practices will be a thing of the past. Female circumcision It is also cultural practice and very few people condone that nowadays.


  3. […] Yes, Grandpa Rev. Harris is shuddering in his grave at the sight of these rough dudes. See post:  https://emynow.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/leaders-wearing-fur-when-is-it-ok/ […]


  4. Koen says:

    oh wow, so your granddad shook hands with Mandela. Unfortunately, that’s nothing got to do with you. Unless you want to have a connection with a person who happily wore fur, without any form of remorse.


    • Emy Will says:

      Hi Koen. How nice to hear from you 🙂 Sadly so many people wore fur in those days. Even John Lennon had a huge fur coat. However, there is no excuse in this day and age with all the online education that is available!


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