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Black lives need to matter in South Africa too, Mashaba tells ANC

Members of the SANDF patrol the streets of Majasana, near Ennerdale. The soldiers are supporting the police to enforce compliance with national lockdown regulations. Pictures: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Members of the SANDF patrol the streets of Majasana, near Ennerdale. The soldiers are supporting the police to enforce compliance with national lockdown regulations. Pictures: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 5, 2020


Last night I watched Jessie Duarte announcing the ANC’s call for all South Africans to support the Black Lives Matter campaign in solidarity with the people of the US and George Floyd.

When I was campaigning in the run-up to the 2016 local government elections, I remember asking myself what poor black people did to the ANC to deserve the treatment that has been meted out to them. This is why I find the ANC’s response to the Black Lives Matter campaign to be the worst form of hypocrisy.

Let me be clear, the movement that has formed around George Floyd’s death should be supported, and it is being supported. The response by US citizens and people around the globe has been unprecedented. 

The question that emerges from this is; why are South Africans being called upon by our government to support a movement on the other side of the world, when this same government of ours has killed poor black people with callous disregard for decades?

Where is our sense of community and justice and where is our resolve to remove any government that tramples upon our far harder won freedoms? One thing we should have learnt by now is that the world is not going to care, when we ourselves demonstrate no sense of outrage.

When the HIV/AIDs denialism cost the premature lives of an estimated 330 000 South Africans, most of whom were poor and black. 

While we were experimenting with beetroot and garlic, the world watched in horror as HIV infected people were dying at truly frightening rates. The world cared more about this issue than our own government, and one might say demonstrated greater outrage than we did.

When Andries Tatane was part of a crowd of 4000 people marching to the Ficksburg Municipality in the Free State to protest poor service delivery in 2011, he was shot twice at point blank range with rubber bullets and beaten. He died 20 minutes later. 

The outrage from South Africans was short-lived, and the ANC of the day was muted in their outrage of another poor black South African dying at their hands.

A group of Black Lives Matter protesters outside Parliament. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

When the police opened fire on striking mine workers in Marikana killing 34 of them, many with wounds reflecting someone shot in the back while fleeing, we were outraged as a country. Our government even feigned outrage but if you want to assess their real feelings of sorrow, look no further than the process that it has taken to implement rulings to compensate the families of those who were gunned down. 

We will never truly know the real story behind the interests in that mine, and how the orders came down to open fire from the same ANC government that is now asking South Africans to unite behind Black Lives Matter. 

When the Gauteng Provincial Government, in a cost saving exercise that never extended to their own largess, moved vulnerable patients in 2014 to facilities that could not adequately take care of them. An unthinkable 143 people died the most terrible deaths, including starvation. It took four years for the families to receive compensation and South Africans were outraged, but that too subsided with time as more tragedies at the hands of our government came to bear.

In 2016, when the Lily Mine collapsed in Mpumalanga and buried alive 3 miners, our government said that the container could not be retrieved. Our same government spent millions sending its Mine Rescue division to Chile in 2010 to be involved in an international rescue operation for the Chilean Miners. Now, today, bidders for the Lily Mine are offering to retrieve the container, a feat that our government said could not be achieved. 

Protesters hold signs and shout slogans during a protest to decry the killing of George Floyd. Picture: Ariel Schalit/AP

In most recent times, 11 South Africans have died at the hands of law enforcement agencies and the SANDF from the policing of the lockdown regulations, the most well-known of which is Collins Khosa from Alexandra township. Our government has demonstrated no concern for these deaths, and little remorse to the families. These were people who were trying to survive under difficult circumstances of the lockdown.

The ANC of today that is asking us to join the Americans in solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaign, is the same ANC that has demonstrated time and time again that in South Africa, too often black lives don’t matter.

My difficulty is not that the black lives matter campaign is not important. It is, now more than ever. My issue is that our own government has shown nothing but brutal disregard for the lives of poor black South Africans.

I find it insulting to be told by the ANC that this is a cause that we should unite around when it is the ANC that has perpetrated abuses against black people in South Africa at unprecedented scales. 

I call upon the ANC and President Ramaphosa to organise the planned launch of Black Friday around the callous disregard for the value of South African lives, and especially those of poor black South Africans.

I will leave you with this thought: What would have happened in America if just one of Marikana, Life Esidimeni, HIV/AIDs denialism or Lily Mine had happened to their people?

* Herman Mashaba is the founder of the People's Dialogue and former mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media. 

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