Black lives can never again be allowed to matter less
As a South African, I reflect on my life as part of the oppressed majority that endured the harshness of legislated racism: apartheid.
Brutality, oppression and violent authority were the tools of the perpetrators, those who had the protection of the law and used it at the cost of thousands of mostly black lives.
During this period our leaders, Nelson Mandela and others, were incarcerated and organisations under the banner of liberation movements were banned. But in 1961 Mandela said: “No power on earth can stop an oppressed people determined to win their freedom.”
Reflecting on these inspiring words, in 1985 I made the first ever anti-apartheid film in South Africa, and did it while being pursued by the police’s Special Branch. It is the story of a black farm worker who dares to ask his white right-wing employer for more supplies because he cannot manage with what has been given. And that simple gesture ends with his murder.
The film follows the unsuccessful attempts to have the farmer charged, but even when a sympathetic clergyman switches sides, nothing happens. It is clear, then, that the matter can only be resolved by anarchy.
I refer, of course, to Place of Weeping, a film I managed to get released in the USA, its premiere in New York attended by Martin Luther King jr III.
At the time, I did several radio interviews and what struck me was the powerful voice of black people across America who had seen the film and compared the atrocity of what we were experiencing in South Africa to their own - even during those days.
It was clear that racism was alive and well in many communities across the US. For me, that came as a shock, but what is even more disturbing for me now, in 2020, is that the situation has not changed.
My work in film has been largely dedicated to telling stories that cele-brate the people and events of our liberation. One such narrative is that of the black youth who rebelled against the authorities when forced to learn Afrikaans, language of the oppressors.
On June 16, 1976, a cold winter’s day, students in Soweto marched to deliver a petition to the education authorities. They were met with police brutality, 69 individuals being killed for their convictions. We salute these young heroes today, the 44th anniversary of one of the most harrowing incidents in South Africa’s history.
Sarafina! was the film I made saluting these young heroes.
In the past weeks we have seen people around the world stand up against the brutality that led to the killing of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and so many others whose names are not known to us. The tipping point for our freedom may have been in 1976, but it would be another two decades before those ideals were realised.
I hope that the actions and introspections required today provide quicker outcomes. We simply cannot continue to lose any more lives.
Now there are protests around the world, and we are able to see the unanimity of support from all race groups, particularly among the youth, in the almost global stand against discrimination, gender-based violence and all forms of violence.
It is these individuals who are taking the future into their hands, and that this is finally finding a foothold in other sectors, such as the environment, and in support of green resources, bodes well for the future.
Good values, ethics, morals and kindness have been subjugated by arrogance, greed, hypocrisy and dishonesty. And it is this that has led to the growth of the right-wing nationalism we see in so many countries around the world.
My film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, is based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. On August 5, 1962, he was arrested and incarcerated for 27 years. During his imprisonment, he identified as a key pillar to our freedom, and a way in which our people can come together as a unified nation, the need to dispel the fear of the white minority, the fear that black South Africans would seek revenge.
To this end, when Mandela stepped out of that prison, he forgave all who had visited this great injustice upon his people and on him.
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the lives of others,” he said.
Ubuntu is a South African notion that I am simply because you are. That we are all connected, that we need each other to exist. That our every action has an effect on the humanity of the world. Today, ubuntu is more relevant than it has ever been.
As I look at the US today, and its journey to so-called “freedom” for all who live in it, I am able to reflect on the cruelties meted out not only to its indigenous First Nations people, but to its slave population, predominantly from Africa and the Caribbean, their violent oppression and so-called subsequent emancipation.
It has all been largely part of “the show”. Racism has continued to thrive across America, violence and brutality the undiscussed norm - until May 26.
Now we have an all-embracing global community, mainly young, protesting for change across the world. Many of us are coming together around the world for our black brothers and sisters, to make a difference.
We need more.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
* Singh is chief executive and chairman of the Videovision Entertainment Group, and is recognised as South Africa’s pre-eminent film producer, having made more than 80 films since 1984.