INTERPRETING BLACK LIVES MATTER IN THE CONTEXT OF SOUTH AFRICA.
When I was asked to do a presentation on Black Lives Matter in the context of South Africa, I immediately thought of the days of the apartheid regime, how white police men would beat up, torture and kill black people – innocent black people in South Africa. And how most people that I have interviewed blame colonialism and the apartheid regime as the root cause of the ongoing violence.
SOUTH AFRICAN NATIONAL DEFENCE FORCE (SANDF) AND LAW- ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS BRUTALITY
Annually on August 16th we remember the Marikana massacre which claimed the lives of at least thirty-four platinum miners at the hands of the South African Police Service (SAPS). The Marikana massacre, which took place on 16 August 2012, was the most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the June 16th Soweto uprising of 1976.
MOVING TO 2020 AND THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC
The deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to help the police during the COVID 19 nationwide lockdown, brought about an increase in law enforcement brutality – such as Collins Khosa who allegedly died at the hands of security company officials and the SANDF. Mr Khosa was one of the 11 Black citizens who died at the hands of the army, police, or law-enforcement officials during the Covid-19 level 5 lockdown.
GENDER BASED VIOLENCE/FEMICIDE DURING LOCKDOWN
The COVID19 lockdown has seen a drastic increase of gender-based violence worldwide. If we are to interpret black lives matter in the context of South Africa, we cannot exclude gender-based violence and femicide.
According to latest statistics from the South African Police Service an average of nearly 58 people are murdered every day. A woman is murdered every three hours, and according to a recent statement from President Cyril Ramaphosa, 51 percent of South African women have experienced violence at the hands of someone with whom they are in a relationship.
Most women live in fear and anxiety. Corruption in our justice system also plays a major factor as most perpetrators of crime sometimes walk free – because dockets went missing.
Then there is also gang violence, especially amongst the coloured communities, women and children have and continue to be victims of gang violence and both the SAPS and SANDF have failed to win the battle against gangsterism.
To date we have seen men standing up against gender-based violence, such as the movement ‘not in our name and more.
Although in 2019 several African countries protested against xenophobic attacks in South Africa, communities continue to experience xenophobic sentiments. Following Finance Minister Mr Tito Mboweni’s April 24th media briefing to outline the economic support package, where he highlighted the fact that most businesses such as restaurants in South Africa hire mainly foreign nationals deliberately in order to pay law wages, a group of South Africans started the #PutSouthAfricaFirst movement – with a completely different agenda. The movement which seems to be gaining momentum on social media platforms seeks to incite xenophobic behaviour towards foreign nationals – especially those coming from African countries. As a result, just last week we saw sporadic attacks on foreign nationals’ truck drivers. Note that the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference SACBC has distanced itself from such movements and urged Catholics as well as people of goodwill to do the same.
Hundreds of foreign nationals have and will continue to be victims of black on black violence in South Africa. There are numerous attributing factors regarding the influx of legal and illegal migrants in South Africa. Part of the problem is the struggling of small and medium enterprises who have not received financial assistance from the government and will therefore prefer cheap labour instead regulated labour. With the growing numbers of unemployed people due to the economic impact of COVID19, The next wave of violent protests will most likely be about the failure of government to provide leadership, and unfortunately foreigners will be at the receiving end.
RACIAL DIVIDE AND ONGOING VIOLENCE POST APARTHEID
After twenty-six years of democracy, the Covid-19 pandemic has manifested itself as a class pandemic, with grave implications for the poor. According to the World Bank South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with immense inequality gaps between the developed and under-developed, privileged and underprivileged, and “haves” and “have-nots” – The black majority continues to dwell in informal settlements, communities living in rural areas are still waiting for the provision of health care facilities, electricity, water… to name but a few.
It’s the white minority that can afford private education for their children, access to private health care and much more.
In various conversations with religious and nonreligious we often talk about the importance of knowing one’s identity, roots – in other words culture. In order to heal our nation of the ongoing violence we need to have ongoing dialogue about the impact of the apartheid regime in our society – especially the black society.
We need to address the family structure – which unfortunately in most cases are almost non-existent. Most families are headed by single parents or by grandparents due to various factors including the AIDS pandemic.
Its important to do away with patriarchy – to empower both girls and boys. Above all to instil back the spirit of ubuntu in our communities. As we bid farewell to the late Zindzi Mandela this morning, we realised that we need more women like Zindzi Mandela to inspire and empower young people.
The Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) have issued several pastoral letters condemning racism, gender-based violence and femicide, xenophobia and all other forms of violence. In his pastoral letter addressing the elephant in the room ‘racism’ Archbishop Stephen Brislin wrote “If we want our conversion to contribute to the building of a South Africa freed from racism, we must strive to lead lives worthy of the Gospel (cf. Phil. 1.27; Eph. 4.1), refrain from loving only people who are just like ourselves. In loving only those who share our racial and ethnic backgrounds, we fall short of fulfilling the demands of love which the Gospel calls for.”
“Attacks on migrant communities and their businesses are likely to continue because they “are now inextricably linked to service delivery protests” … However, it is also necessary that migrants integrate into South African society. “It takes two to tango. Both migrants and local people have to willingly find each other. Prejudice is overcome when both parties become involved in the same projects.” Said liaison bishop of the Migrants and Refugees Office Archbishop Buti Tlhagale during a workshop on migration.
The SACBC Justice and Peace commission together with UN Women through the ‘Tavern Initiative’ as part of the HeForShe have thought men to become responsible husbands and fathers, to refrain from violent behaviour towards their family.
July is moral regeneration month in South Africa, in a recent conversation with the Chairperson of the moral regeneration movement Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa said “We have lost our moral fibre, we need to instil the spirit of Ubuntu – I am because you are – in order to curb the ongoing violence in our society”
Ours is to promote Gospel Values through the airwaves. As a Catholic media practitioner, I believe in ongoing dialogue, as opposed to chasing headlines. I strongly believe that as communicators we ought to use such platforms to build lives, to instill moral values.
As we continue to observe Nelson Mandela month, let us strive to promote social cohesion, respect and dignity for all men and women irrespective of color or gender, in our bid to spread Gospel values through storytelling.
I thank you.
By Sheila Pires (Radio Veritas South Africa)
17th July 2020